Kiruna being quite far away from most other places in Sweden – did you know if you turn Sweden round 180 degrees on its toe it reaches as far as Rome? – when people come home for Christmas they usually stay for more than a night. These are Hemvändare – ‘Home returners’ – and they’re easy to spot around town.
They walk around in noisy gangs, meeting up with old school friends and reliving their wild teenage years. Couples wear slightly matching winter clothing, and they look cold. In cars they never stop to let people cross the road, and in shops they stand a bit too close to you in the queue and talk loudly in your ear. To keep them out of mischief friendly sports matches are arranged in town, and they’re encouraged to use up excess energy in the swimming pool, where they plough relentlessly up and down.
But this isn’t enough. After half a day back home, locals are desperate for ways to get them out from under their feet.
Suddenly, though people have not worried about it at all up to Christmas, when Hemvändare arrive it is absolutely essential that the snow on the roof is cleared away, before it causes a serious accident. Hemvändare, or, HemV to the rescue! They’re up on that roof, balancing precariously on the fire escape, shovelling off that snow.
The backyard, knee-deep in snow, as it is all winter, urgently needs clearing – for reasons that are not easily explained. HemV know how to work the snow clearing machines, and they’re off! Snow shooting in all directions and them occupied for the next two hours. Over the Christmas period you see them up and down the street, enjoying life as it used to be, when they were younger and had to live with snow – HemV are tough, they know the score, they can take it.
Then there are those old rusty vehicles, buried in snow at the end of the yard, haven’t been in use for over two months but now, over Christmas, they’re needed. They have to be dug out, the engines turned over, and if they aren’t working, they need HemV to get them working. They can fix it. The sound of revving engines echoes up and down Kiruna’s hills, exhaust fumes filling the cold Christmas air.
HemV are needed to get in the shopping, and they’re needed to walk the dogs. They’re needed to sort out that rubbish in the porch, and mend the broken stairs down to the basement. HemV – Your Town Needs You!
Then, after a few days, when HemV have fixed all the broken things, cleared all the snow away, and drunk the last cans of Lapin Kulta, they get back on a flight to Stockholm, pleased to be going home at last, proud to have been born in Kiruna, but relieved to be living somewhere else, where there’s no snow to clear and you can pay someone else to come and fix things that are broken.
And in Kiruna, locals breathe an even bigger sigh of relief, finally stop finding things to be done and at last just stretch out on the sofa and watch Netflix films. Peace returns.