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Christmas comes early in my house, European-style celebrations on the eve rather than the day, with the traditional overindulgence in alcohol, rich food and presents.  I’ve often felt more than a little hypocritical about this, being an atheist, but if nothing else I’ve always said that it is a nice day of the year to overindulge in alcohol, rich food and presents!  But if push came to shove, I’d like to think that I have the balls to invoke my pagan ethnic ancestry, and that I would invite the joulupukki into my house tomorrow night.

On Christmas Eve when this hideous, 2000 year old creature comes to the door, the children are forced by their parents to line up and chant: “Joulupukki, joulupukki, valkoparta vanha ukki. Eikö taakka paina selkää, käypä tänne emme pelkää!”  The last part (“we’re not afraid!”) is exactly what you are — my Christmases were full of such terror.  Gifts if you’d been good, and punishment if you’d been bad.  Year after year I failed to remember that a frantic burst of angelic behaviour in the second to last week of December would not a year’s miscreantry repair!

The ‘punishment’ involved is fairly benign nowadays: you get less presents.  In my own youth, you might get no presents at all.  In my parents day the joulupukki came into the house with a birch branch and beat them if they’d been naughty.  In the dark old days, the joulupukki would not only beat you, it would take something from you as well.  But at the root of this festive season, for me at least, is a trembling child awaiting judgment, knowing that if he or she had been bad, that they might be eaten.  Before a cola manufacturer turned its blood-soaked clothes into a jolly red outfit, Santa Claus was a monster.

Merry Christmas kiddies!

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