This Sunday is ‘skyltsöndag’ (‘display Sunday’) all over Sweden. It’s the day when Christmas advertising goes up in shop windows (yes, they’ve agreed a day for it, which isn’t August, isn’t that wonderful?) That means the festive season is ‘open’, and, it being the northern part of the world, Father Christmas doesn’t have very far to travel so he manages to appear at all the local events. He’ll be busy this weekend, handing out presents to children at markets and keeping his hands warm over a log fire.
I’m generally very traditional, refusing to put up a single decoration in the house until Christmas Eve, but in Kiruna I’ve come to feel that anything goes. That’s because no-one’s pushing Christmas down my throat. I’m not having to listen to ‘Jingle Bells’ wherever I go so somehow I don’t feel I have to put up such a fight.
Besides, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s very dark already, and thinking about some sparkling coloured lights around the window is a very cheering thought. Some of our neighbours have already put them up, and good luck to them I say.
In other places I’ve lived it’s been hard to avoid, with everyone wanting to sell you a bit of it, long before it’s time. Weirdly, up here in the land of flying reindeer, Christmas is a lot harder to get hold of. I’ll give you an example.
The other day we were in our favourite local shop – ‘Boomerang’ (you guessed it, it’s a second hand shop). This week – it being ‘skyltsöndag’ and all – they’d got out all the Christmas stuff they’d acquired during the year and made a big display of it in the middle of the shop. I felt a bit queasy at the sight of so much red and green, and marvelled at the number of electric advent candles that could be assembled in one place and in such a remote part of the world.
The ‘mini-me’ Father Christmases looked rather menacing.
I was doing my very best to get in the mood, and was just wondering if our guests might appreciate a holly-wreathed Christmas toothpick holder, when I heard music. It was familiar, I could even join in with it, sing along to it. A woman nearby swayed to and fro while she examined a cutesy china reindeer standing in a china snow scene. Yes, my ears were not deceiving me, it really was ‘E Viva Espana’.
‘If you’d like to chat to a matador, in some cool cabana …and meet señoritas by the score…Espana por favor!’
It killed the mood, it really did. I couldn’t even think of buying the toothpick holder. But it didn’t affect the woman nearby, who was clearly set on buying the china reindeer.
You’d think in Sweden that a ‘real’ Christmas tree would be easy to come by, wouldn’t you? And yet last year we had to make do with draping tinsel around a bit of old wood, which really didn’t have the same feel. The landscape around town is more arctic tundra than forest so – not many Christmas trees. Someone does sell them in the shopping centre each year, but just for a day, and if you’re not there, that’s it, you’ve missed it. There’s no rushing off to ‘Homebase’ to get one at half price that looks droopy and has already lost its needles but ‘at least it’s a tree’. There’s no Christmas tree to be had, not anywhere…
A few days earlier I spotted a pink EPA tractor (converted old car with small engine, driven legally by teenagers) shooting up the hill, with two small artificial Christmas trees fastened on the back, illuminated with tasteful blue lights. If you want to ‘Pimp My Ride’ in these parts, you don’t go for the pearl-studded back seat covers or the souped-up engine, you get a Christmas tree fitted. When I saw it whizz past I got no warm glow of anticipation. I couldn’t say the experience of seeing it was ‘Christmassy’. Just bizarre.
On the other hand in Kiruna one can be sure that the essential ingredient, snow, is in abundant supply. There’s lots of the lovely fluffy stuff, everywhere, so the town looks like a Christmas card wherever you go. The only trouble is, by the time Christmas comes, the snow’s been around for quite some time, so when you see it falling gently outside your (candlelit) window, you don’t think ‘ooh how lovely how Christmassy…’, but ‘oh no, that’s another hour shovelling snow’.
I’m not sure locals even know that snow is meant to be Christmassy. If it was, it really could be Christmas here every day (well almost). Nonetheless, they are fearless in their pursuit of all things Christmassy, and if the real thing is too easy to come by, then they’ll go for the make-believe. Today we saw a balcony in block of flats in town where someone had put out a large, person-sized, plastic snowman. It had two black plastic eyes, a plastic tartan scarf, and (of course) a cheery plastic smile. Its two-dimensional shape looked strangely out of place, set next to the snow-covered town.
Knowing how things are, I guess it’ll be there until the snow melts. Which will probably be sometime next May. You see, it really can be Christmas here every day.