Scent of gingerbread cookies, softwood tree needles, Joulutorttu and carrot casserole. Radio singing on the background, playing theme music from the movie Snowman… or some of the more traditional Christmas carols. Ho-ho’s of Santa Claus and kids screaming of joy (or fear, mind you…). Snow scrunching under your boots in the silent forest on a frosty night. Candles shining in darkness and stars twinkling in the dark night sky. To me all this means Christmas. Finnish Christmas. Specific mixture of scents, sounds and lights.
Given this backround information, picture this: One tired evening I was aimlessly browsing through several social media sites, when I was suddenly awakened from my hibernation… An ad of a Finnish Christmas Market had been caught up by a corner of my eye. Oh cool, I thought and all these scents, sounds and lights described above started floating through my still very Finnish brain. My Christmas mood was rising faster than Rudolf the Red nose Reindeer floats in the sky on Christmas Eve, and like bewitched, I immediately began planning a trip to this must-be-next-to-heaven-Christmas-market.
I should’ve known better. After seven years and counting, I really should have known better… But, obviously I was bewitched; my mind was blurred with all these mental visions about childhood Christmases… so when the day came, I packed my kids into a huge and clumsy rental sport utility vehicle (yes, unfortunately our faithful servant Skoda das Auto was ONCE AGAIN not so faithful and needed to be transported to a garage in sights of becoming faithful again…) and off we went. The Finnish Christmas Market was taking place in the heart of city of Zürich. The day was grayish-like, exactly how the so-called winter days often are around here. And somehow the scenery did NOT miraculously change into a white shiny Finnish winter wonderland on the way. Nope. Zürich was as grey and as busy as ever. I really should have realized then the latest to change my expectations. Didn’t happen. I was still bewitched.
Navigating through the city was getting on my nerves big time. Quite as always. And finding a parking space for the clumsy SUV from the narrow streets proved to be nearly impossible without wrecking someone else’s vehicle on the process. Finally I succeeded, just to find out that the parking time was very limited and we had only one and a half hour to reach the destination, enjoy the magical Christmas market and make our way back to the car. Good luck, I thought and started to feel a bit grumpy. We walked through the gray streets (or I walked, the kids were jumping around) and entered Migrationskirche, the building that was supposed to be hiding the Finnish Christmas wonderland inside of its walls.
Instead of warm and Christmassy, the place felt gloomy. And it smelled like too many sweaty people packed in a room too small. Air was thick, you could have almost cut a piece of it with a pocket knife. No decorations, no scent of softwood tree needles in the air. And there were SO MANY PEOPLE inside. At this point I have to tell you, that Finns are pretty strict about their personal space. Maybe one starts losing the strictness in this matter after spending years abroad, but seven years and counting was definitely not enough for me to lose ANY of it. I started feeling claustrophobic, and our little princess was tucking at my sleeve, saying: mommy, there are too many people in this room. Little Prince Charming was not saying anything but his bewildered eyes gave me a pretty accurate idea about what was going through his little cute head. And they were both born in Switzerland. Apparently you CAN inherit the need of personal space…
Finally the spell was broken and my eyes were opened. Absolutely no Christmas magic around here. Heroically, I tried swallowing my mood which was getting grumpier every second, and escorted the kids deeper into the ocean of people. We went through stands one by one, getting hopelessly stuck in between everyone else. My true car-lover boy little Prince Charming said: mommy, there’s an enormous traffic jam here. And I agreed. Sweet little Princess was agitated but bravely behaving herself. As expected Prince Charming started to lose the grip when we were half way through the market, and started pulling tablecloths off the stands. Yippee, I thought, trying to maintain calm and stop him from doing too much damage, feeling the eyes of salespersons drilling into my back.
I made a desperate attempt to save the day and reminded my kids about the fact that there’s definitely some Carelian Pies at the cafe. I could almost taste them pies in my mouth already and started approaching the cafe rather determinedly through the crowd. Oops. Again, very little have I learned during my years in this country. Our sweet little princess is lactose intolerant and cannot freely eat products that contain milk, like, let’s say Carelian Pies, for example. Finnish food industry happens to be a real forerunner in these things, and over there you can buy basically almost everything lactose free. I was thinking Fazer Bakery’s Carelian Pies that are automatically lactose free, and ended up staring at some homemade copies, definitely NOT lactose free. CRAP. Now I was feeling REALLY grumpy. My mistake, I REALLY should have known better by now… But somehow I got so carried away with my own MEMORIES of Finland… a form of some sort of homesickness, maybe? Or something everybody experiences at some point in the process of integration…?
Anyway, I calmed the now-very-angry sweet little princess down with an overpriced box of moomin candies and studied the prices of my favorite Finnish chocolate while kids were concentrating on their candy boxes. Outrageously over-priced, I thought and got even more grumpy. Better order them from Fazer Candy Store. At this point I had seriously had enough. All my Christmassy fantasies had been blown into the gray air of city of Zürich. I guided the kids out of the building and miraculously managed to make it back to the car within time frame given by parking rules.
Feeling miserable I packed the kids in the car and headed through the city. Towards home, towards our own little Finland located in little SWISS village somewhere on the countryside of Switzerland. Mrs. Grump and her kids on the way home. What a crappy day, I marveled in my mind, what a crappy Christmas market. Then a little disruptive thought twinkled in the corner of my brain: maybe, just maybe… there was something wrong with my own attitude and expectations. After all, everyone else seemed to be perfectly happy and enjoying. Good for them, my Grumpy self told to my other self. Never again! Just wait and see, we’ll definitely do it again next year, said my other self, just don’t expect it to be like your childhood Christmases in Finland. My grumpy self grunted. She was really not quite ready to give up just yet. Even though she knew her other self had made a good point. And me, I was in the mood of letting the grumpy side win and promised to myself next year I would only go to a Swiss Christmas Market.
It was already dark when I pulled up to the parking space next to our house. I knew there would be no scent of gingerbread cookies, softwood tree needles, Joulutorttu and carrot casserole when I’d open the door. But at least there were Christmas lights and candles shining in the darkness and theme music from the movie Snowman playing silently on the background. Two little ones had adopted my grumpiness somewhere in between Zürich and our home and started a fight as soon as they entered the house. Merry Christmas, I ho-hoed to myself and started pulling the two little fist-fighters apart…