Even in Kiruna you can’t get away from sentimental music you’ve heard for too many Christmases. The only reason to rush around here at this time of year is when you want to get out of the shop before they play ‘Last Christmas I gave you my heart….this year, to save me from tears I’ll give it to someone special’ for the second time.

Otherwise Kiruna’s leisurely pace continues over the festive season and no-one seems to be making any special effort.

Except, perhaps, ‘hemvändare’ – home for Christmas, the relatives who moved south and are ‘home’ for Christmas, get to hang around on street corners smoking, meeting up with old school friends and filling up the bars and restaurants with determined celebration.

And the tourists. There are many in town, though the town isn’t where their focus is. It’s on the tours, the northern lights, the husky dogs, the snow scooters. Tales around the camp fire, wildlife safaris, make your own igloo, and the Ice Hotel. Their schedules are hectic – a counterpoint in double time to Kiruna’s slow, steady pace.

Our last guests had a fully-packed week, but the aurora had refused to appear through the clouds. But the last night they were here there was a clear sky and a bit of auroral activity visible on the sky camera, so we sent them out in the car to a dark road nearby to try their luck for the last time. They were tired, it was the end of their holiday, and they would have preferred to stay at home and go to bed. But they reluctantly gathered together their warm gear, got in the car and drove off.

A few minutes later the aurora appeared in a spectacular way. When our guests came home they said they’d just got out the car, and the lights appeared. ‘It felt like it was specially for us,’ they said.

The aurora can make you feel like that – as if you’re favoured, as if you’re special. Someone once said you can never feel sorry for yourself when you see the northern lights.

Our guests left and it was the day before Christmas Eve, the day of celebration here in Sweden. We thought we’d got everything in, but the crucial spices for the homemade glögg had already been used last year and you can’t have glögg without spices. And you can’t have an evening at home before the Eve without glögg. So it was an emergency dash to the supermarket. We were in danger of rushing.

Throwing ourselves out the front door Rolf headed off for the car but for a second I looked up, and saw pink and green running across the sky. Everything came to a halt – we just stood and gaped. That aurora puppy was pushing it’s balls of colour around the sky, hiding them out of sight and then launching them from behind us. The shop was forgotten. The glögg was forgotten. The thought entered my head that we lived in the kind of place where a trip to the supermarket could begin with a display of northern lights. We felt very special.

At this time of year it’s tempting to stay in. The darkness encourages a healthy inward-looking approach. It was snowing steadily. There was one thing, though, that I wanted to do before we gave ourselves over to the feasting, I wanted to go and see if Father Christmas was in his usual spot.

Every year he appears on Christmas Eve, sitting on the front porch of a small house in a nearby village, the one where the Ice Hotel is. He just sits there, surveying people passing by, and plenty do. Tourists walk past on their way to meet tame reindeer at the end of the road, to go to the restaurant down the road, or perhaps to visit the local church. He just watches them, quietly, from a distance. They don’t see him.

There’s nothing to make you look that way, no sign telling you this is the way to Santa’s grotto or anything like that. Just an ordinary little house, and ordinary man sitting on the porch – only he has a long white beard and a red coat. We saw him. He is someone special, so this year I gave him my heart.


The day after writing this I learnt that George Michael, the person who wrote and performed this song (‘Last Christmas’), had just died.