Little Ingrid and her younger brother, Sven, live with their mother and father in Lapland. It is very far north where there is a great deal of snow, powdered mountains of snow on the roofs of the houses, on the boughs of the trees and rising high from the valleys of the walkways and drives. Once there was so much snow they had to go to church through the steeple! Lapland is in the geographical region of Fennoscandia within Northern Europe, comprising Norway, Sweden, Finland and parts of Russia. In Lapland the dark winter evenings come quickly as the sun drops below the horizon at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon and does not reappear through the crystallized frozen sky until ten o’clock the following morning. Until then the welkin is a cobalt blue dome ornamented with millions of glinting stars. Sometimes the sky is so clear and the moon so bright that the snow on the ground below sparkles like a flawless carpet of diamonds. You may know Lapland best as the place reindeer inhabit. Of course there’s no proof that Rudolph, Santa’s famous Christmas Eve red-nosed guide, is from Lapland but it is virtually assured.
Because Lapland is so far north – almost at the North Pole where Santa and his elves live – and because the snow is so very deep in December, the Laplanders have developed their own peculiar customs. There is for example no way to circumnavigate Lapland at Christmas except by sleigh. As you might expect, it is the sure-footed reindeer who most often provide the locomotion. The furry, sleek reindeer fly along the powdered snow leaving in their wake a trail of glimmering ice particles.
In preparation for Christmas and the anticipated arrival of extended family and friends, Ingrid and Sven help their parents prepare their cozy household for the merry-making. Ingrid and Sven are not always compatible. Like many brothers and sisters they have their occasional disagreements. But at Christmas all differences are put aside! There are too many happier thoughts to preoccupy them. Christmas marks the pinnacle of the holiday season and there is always a great deal to do. It begins with finding the appropriate Christmas tree. Ingrid, Sven and their parents trek into the fathomless recesses of the nearby forest to find the exact tree, not too big, not too small, just right! The forest is always profoundly hushed, muffled by the weighty snow. Being in the forest means they have to wear snowshoes to avoid plunging into the snow. Once Sven tried to walk into the forest without snowshoes and he as good as disappeared into the powder! Fortunately for him Ingrid was not far behind on her snowshoes with her wooden sleigh and she was able to pull him onto it! From that time onward Sven always wore his snowshoes in the forest. Snowshoes by the way are adjustable so there is never a problem accommodating change when growing up.
Aside from the sublime smell of wood smoke from the pot-bellied stove in the kitchen, the delicious aroma of sugary baking and rich, buttered pastry fills the air of the household at Christmas. The fermenting fruit cake which has been warped in cheesecloth in the cellar for months is retrieved from its dark cavern, cut into thin slices and laid upon the best crystal plate. Normally the family only drinks milk and tea but at Christmastime they have Glögg. Glögg is a sweet aromatic drink consisting of port and claret, currants and spices (cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon or mace). It is warmed in a large shiny brass caldron over the fire, provoked almost to a boil by inserting a hot poker into the vinous liquid to give it that extra oomph! It is frequently served with ginger biscuits. It warms your insides and soothes the soul!
The entire house – both inside and out – must be festooned, not just the Christmas tree. There are multi-coloured lights; fresh pine boughs and lustrous green holly leaves with brilliant red berries; candles; ribbons, wreaths and garlands; glossy silver bells on polished leather straps; miniature wooden houses, farm animals and toys; story books of Yuletide tales and cardboard pop-up figures; crystal snowballs and carved wooden bowls loaded with nutmeats.
When the house is quiet and they have a moment alone, Ingrid and Sven lie on their backs under the decorated Christmas tree next to the fireplace and peer into the multi-coloured bulbs and up through the tinselled branches to the star on top. If their heads are close enough to a shiny bulb their reflected image is distorted into a funny face and they utter comic sounds to complete the picture. A peace descends upon the scene and it is only the crackling of the burning logs in the fireplace that interrupts the serenity. Everything is in waiting for Christmas Day!
Sometimes for months before Christmas Ingrid and Sven plan what they will do on Christmas morning. Once in July when the sun never sets they discussed building an igloo! They never tire of talking of Christmas. Their schemes include the creation of a play that they intend to perform for their parents on Christmas Eve. The theme involves an arduous journey over barren geography to a warm and welcoming barn where they discover the Christmas spirit and share their bounty. There is always Christmas music, choral especially, magnificent voices and sounds which repeat year after year yet never become uninspiring. The final arrangement is to settle who will be the first on Christmas morning to get the other out of bed to go downstairs to see if Santa has been there overnight! The plan is that one or the other of them will creep into the other’s bedroom, tip-toe to the edge of the bed then whisper “It’s Christmas!”