I’ve been reading about all the commercial ‘Winter Wonderlands’ in the UK – ‘Santa’s Special Grotto’ and ‘Christmas Forest with Elves’ sort of arrangements. I’m rather impressed that up this way, where Father Christmas actually lives (in Jukkasjärvi), there isn’t even a sign pointing to his house, let alone an entrance fee. In fact, you wouldn’t notice he’s there really.

He sits on his front porch and watches people. Inmates from the Ice Hotel, for example, having their physical recreation, walking to the church and back in their prisoner outfits. He doesn’t invite anyone in for a chat, or encourage children to come and collect presents. He doesn’t do anything in particular. He’ll wink at you, though, if you catch his eye. It seems to be his temporary home, in the run-up to Christmas. We never see him there after Christmas Eve. But is he Father Christmas or just another ‘Tomte’?

It’s confusing in Sweden, one never knows. It’s ‘Tomte’ who delivers the presents, and although he looks like Father Christmas there are thousands of ‘Tomtar’ (plural form) all over Sweden, making an appearance at the same time (Christmas Eve afternoon). I looked up an explanation of why there are so many of them and learnt that they’re thought to be the spirit of the farmer who first cleared the land and built a house there. That’s what ‘tomte’ actually means – ‘a plot of land’. So it’s a kind of ancestor worship I suppose. And you need to keep your house Tomte happy, especially at Christmas time.

That explained it then. Just before Christmas our fridge-freezer had an identity crisis and started beeping crazily when the outdoor temperature hit minus 18. The downstairs shower drain got blocked and flooded the shower. Then the fuse went in the mains electricity. Clearly our Tomte wasn’t happy.

I didn’t know what to do. I had to look it up. Apparently Tomtar don’t like their habits disturbed and can get into a terrible rage if you re-organise things around the house. You also have to take good care of your land and animals, and not allow buildings to deteriorate. And finally, at Christmas, your house Tomte likes a bowl of porridge, with butter. Butter in the porridge, mind, not next to it – they’re very particular about that.

After repairing the creaking downstairs door, doing a bit of clearing up in the basement, and talking loudly in the house about porridge with butter, things seem to have returned to normal.