Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Unseasonable Merry Christmas

Hello skeptigirl!
I saw a listing for an unofficial Finnish holiday on Wikipedia called Little Christmas or Pikkujoulu.  It describes it as workmates going pub crawling during December.  Would you give us a little more insight into Little Christmas?  What is the history of it?
Nashville, Tennessee

Thank you so much for writing Mark and my deepest humblest and, uncharacteristic for Finns, dramatic apologies for the delay. If we go by stereotypes, a real Finn would just have answered in a timely manner, we see ourselves as very reliable and hard working. It really is a good question but Skeptigirl is extremely lazy and prone to procrastination as well as employed for a change. 

The actual history that I found is a bit sparse because it is a young holiday and alcohol induced memory loss but it is based on the advent. In Finland Christmas is the main family and the main religious holiday. It may actually be the only somewhat religious holiday a Finn really observes because Finns are in no way religious as a person from the States understands religious. Still the whole of December is spent in pseudo spiritual observation and with warm fuzzy feelings if the hassle of having a spotless house from attic to cellar has not driven the average Finnish mother and wife to suicide. Finns commit a lot of suicides around Christmas.
Anyway, in the 1800s the advent was sometimes called pikkujoulu. Something resembling the pikkujoulu of today started to establish itself after WWI. It was modeled after the Christmas celebrations of schools called kuusijuhlat or literally “tree parties”. Before WWII it was sometimes referred to as a puurojuhla or porridge party. That must explain why rice porridge is served sometimes with raisin sauce, way more delicious than you think. Also some party type activities of High School graduates or ylioppilaat that took place in the advent season influenced it as well (so says Finnish Wikipedia) which might explain the amount or alcohol consumed in many adult pikkujoulut today. Remind me to explain the full significance of ylioppilas later.

The thing is, the pikkujoulu is more a celebration of peers while Christmas is a celebration of families and maintenance of warm family traditions. Pikkujoulu is all about fun. It is an opportunity to let your hair down, party with your co-workers (if it is an office party) or friends, exchange gifts and drink a lot of alcohol. There is a Finnish saying: Joulu juhlista jaloin, pikkujoulusta kontaten. There is a pun there which makes it funny and a pain in the behind to translate. Jaloin means both noblest and by foot, or walking. There is another, older and more serious, Finnish saying: Joulu juhlista jaloin. That by itself means: “Christmas the noblest of celebrations/parties.” But when the ending is added it puts the meaning of walking in there instead because it means “…[leave from] little Christmas crawling.” So leave the Christmas party on foot and little Christmas crawling [because you are so sloppy drunk]. I hate translation, trust me, I am an unpaid volunteer.

Now that we have left that painful paragraph behind, let us reinstate that Finns, in general, drink a lot when they party. They use alcohol to have fun like Skeptigirl uses commas and asides to make her point, way too much and irresponsibly. Both often end in embarrassing mistakes, one involving unwanted pregnancies, the other grammatical errors and awkward sentences.

The pikkujoulu is not always a pub crawl with friends ending in a hangover and regrets, but sometimes a space is rented especially if it is for a place of work or a hobby organization or club. Sometimes it is had at the place of work, a lot like an office party could be in America. Children have them too, minus the alcohol. I had one with my class in elementary school. We all brought candy and stuff and had a little party during school hours. This is not to be confused with joulujuhla which is put on by elementary schools which involves a pageant with songs and bad acting for the parents and refreshments.

The truth is there is not much to tell about the pikkujoulu, at least by me. I have not been to one since that one time in elementary school. My church has had one but it was the English Service Christmas Party so that was not the same thing at all. 

I hope I answered the question alright Mark. As always, feel free to add your observations on pikkujoulu the comments below along with any other comments and questions. If you ask a question in the comments I will answer it with only one paragraph and no research so if it is something more involved, on the subject or off, send it to