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Christmas at Fiskars Ironworks

The word joulu (meaning Christmas) is common to all Nordic languages. It was already in use in pagan times, when it was used to refer to the great festival of midwinter or the festival of winter solstice. The word was borrowed to Finnish in the form of juhla (celebration, festival).

Christmas in the 19th Century Cottage

Families of farmers in the 19th century Uusimaa, used to decorate their cottages for Christmas by covering their floors with clean straws and putting fir or juniper branches under benches. A bed sheet decorated with coloured feathers, cowberry branches etc., was hung on the ceiling above the table. Straw decorations, such as himmelis, stars and Yule goats were also common. The table was covered with a white linen sheet and set with piles of bread and butter. They were kept on display through Christmas, untouched. There were also candles, and often a Bible and a hymn book on the table as well. Traditional Christmas food included lutefisk, barley or rice porridge, bread and cheese. For drinking, there was beer and spirits. A bowl of porridge was left also for the home elf, who could taste it while the people went to sauna. After everyone was full, an assortment of Christmas games were played until people fell asleep on floors. Christmas celebrations continued with games, festive food and dance until Nuutinpäivä.

Father Christmas – Santa – Elf

The Father Christmas of today with his white beard and red cap, is the result of many traditions merging into one. His model is St. Nicholas, who for a long time brought gifts to the people in the European continent. After St. Nicholas became incompatible with the more and more Protestant traditions in Northern Europe in the 16th century, a new tradition emerged, where the Christ Child, Chritleinkind or kinkenjes, became the one who handed out gifts. But the tradition of St. Nicholas lived on in places in a milder, kinder way through Weinahtsmann and Santa Claus. In Scandinavia, there was a habit of dressing up as a buck and running around on people’s gardens, scaring them and giving them gifts. This tradition has its roots in the buck, a demon, St. Nicholas kept in chains. Finally, joulupukki (lit. Christmas buck) and the elf from folk religion were combined. Elves were supernatural beings, who lived in cottages and stables, helped with chores and brought good luck to houses. It was important to please the elves, especially during festivals, by giving them large bowls of porridge.

Christmas Tree on the Ceiling

The tradition of Christmas trees spread in the 18th century from the German nobles and merchants to Swedish and Finnish manors. In the beginning, the tree only appeared during festivals and parades, often outside. In Fiskars, the trees became more common in clerks’ homes in the late 19th century. At the time, it was forbidden to take a tree from the vast forests of Fiskars, and instead, the trees were provided by the company. The tradition of Christmas trees spread to workers’ homes as well, courtesy of, for example, a school teacher “Mimmi” Söderwall. The tree was hung from the ceiling – a tradition common in cramped homes all over Swedish-speaking Finland. Originally, the tree was decorated only with candles, but later on apples, gingerbread, paper sweets, paper lanterns, hearts, baked Father Christmases and crêpe and silk paper garlands also became common. In 1938, thanks to Laura Holmström, the founder of Fiskars Museum, the people of Fiskars got a shared Christmas tree outside. People would gather around it to hear a Christmas prayer.

The Workers’ Christmas Table

The contents of a Christmas table in working families varied greatly in the beginning of the 20th century. How it was set depended on the family’s economic situation, as well as the will and skill of the mistress of the house. If the family owned a pig, it could be butchered for Christmas, and different foods, such as blood sausages or groat sausages, could be made out of the intestines. Ham, on the other hand, was salted or smoked and eaten later. Poor families could sometimes receive a piece of ham as a Christmas present from the clerks. Potato and turnip casseroles, boiled or smashed potatoes, cowberry jam and preserved cucumbers were eaten with sausages or ham. Barley or rice porridge was, of course, also part of Christmas, as well as sweetened Christmas bread. Hazelnuts, which could be found in abundance in Fiskars, were the delicacy for the poor.

The Gentry’s Coffee Table and Decorations

In the beginning of the last century, the gentry were eager to decorate their homes with both home-made and store-bought, golden glittery Christmas decorations. Christmas trees were decorated with candles, coloured fringed sweets, small pouches made out of glossy paper and filled with sweets, store-bought Christmas tree sweets, glittery garlands, painted glass balls, flags etc. During Christmas and other holidays, flower pots were often decorated with red or green crêpe paper. Different delicacies, such as chocolate, fruits, raisins, dates and gingerbread were offered. Gingerbread has been eaten since the Middle Ages, originally because of the medicinal value of the spices in them. The spices helped with stomach pains, cholera, feeble-mindedness and tooth aches. Pepper was also believed to prevent pregnancies.

Christmas Presents in Wealthy Homes

The tradition of Christmas presents came to Finnish manors through soldiers and the connections nobles had with the court in Stockholm in the 18th century. Originally, a Christmas present could be a small item, stolen from a friend and returned on Christmas Eve with a poem. The present was thrown in through the door, and the receiver had to guess who the giver was. Later, bucks and old men started to bring gifts. By the turn of the century, Christmas had already been commercialised. Most of the gifts in merchant families were bought in stores. Gifts for adults were often self-made handicraft, such as caps, slippers, collars and thimbles, but also store-bought items such as books, shawls, gloves or baskets of delicacies, including, for example, sardines, olives and caprices.

Christmas Chores in the Baking and Mangling Room

Butchering a lamb in autumn marked the beginning of Christmas preparations. In December, it was time to butcher a pig. All the parts of the pig were used. The meat was salted in barrels, and the rest was made into sausages using bull horns.

Beer was made for Christmas, using barley, common hop, yeast and water. First the barley was watered and allowed to sprout, after which it was dried into malts in a sauna. The malt was crushed and mixed into hot water. Then mash was sieved from the drink by pouring it through a thick layer of straw. Hop and yeast was then mixed into it, and then the drink was left to sit in a tub. Yeast was kept dried, in, for example, a straw wreath. When the beer was ready, it was poured into a big barrel for preservation.

A week before Christmas was the time for baking. Early in the morning, a sourdough was mixed with rye flour in a large dough through, where the dough was then let to rise. The dough was mostly baked into reikäleipä (a thin disc of bread with a hole in the middle through which the bread was put on a pole and hung to a ceiling to dry), though loafs were also made. For holidays such as Christmas, yeast bread was also baked with the yeast got from making beer. It could take hours to heat the baking oven. When the oven was suitably hot, the coal was brushed out, and the bread was put in with the help of a peel.

Laundry was also part of Christmas preparations, and could take days, since the laundry had piled up since summer. A mangle was in busy use, because the linen sheets, cloths and towels had to be smooth by Christmas. Mangles with a hand crank were in use at least as early as the 16th century. A more advanced version of it was a stone mangle. The fabric was moistened and wrapped around a roller, and then two women dragged a box filled with stones over it and then back again.

Sorces and literature:

Droke. K. Våra julblommor. Veckans krönika. Julnummer. 1908.
Fredlund, Jane. Stora boken om livet förr.1985.
Holmström, Laura. Minnen från Fiskars.1994.
Klevdahl, Nils (Red.). Fiskars i dag och för 300-år sedan. 1949
Koivisto, Kaisa (et. al.). Joulupuu on rakennettu. 2012.
Lönnqvist, Bo. Och nu är det jul.
Paljakka, Anna. Brukets kokbok. 2001.
Savolainen, Irma. Jultraditioner i Finland.
Sipola, Sinikka. Joulu on lukemisen aikaa. Helsingin sanomat. 23.12.2009.
Talve, Ilmar. Suomen kansankulttuuri. 1979.
Vilkuna, Kustaa. Vuotuinen ajantieto.1994.
Winter, Vivan. När ljusen tändes i Fiskars. På minnenas landsväg II. 1991

Unpublished sources:

Fiskars company historical archive, Fiskars

Handbook library
Forsberg, Anna. Seder och bruk kring jul och nyår. 1943.

Pohja local historical archive, Fiskars

Fiskars hembygdsförenings arkiv
Hafb. Temautställningar. O. Traditionella julutställningar.
Gripenberg, Margaretha. Anteckningar om julfirande i Fiskars.

Fiskars hembygdsförenings arkiv
Hafb. Temautställningar. O. Traditionella julutställningar.
Backman, Tyra (et. al.). Barndomsminnen. Julfirandet och årets övriga högtider, vardagen m.m.

Fiskars hembygdsförenings arkiv
Hafb. Temautställningar. O. Traditionella julutställningar.
Fiskars museum
Frågelistsvar, Julfirande på Fiskars

Pojo samling
Winter, Vivan. Julfirande på Fiskars.
Johansson, Anna (Red.) Solbacken i helg och söcken, vardag och fest. 1971


Julfirande i Fiskars
LBA 1. Informant: Eriksson, Erik
LBA 2. Informant: Olsen, Svea

SLS Folkkultursarkivet, Helsingfors

Samling 824
Frågelistsvar, Hur firades julen förr