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When I was a girl, Santa delivered each of us kids a special gift on Christmas Eve. He would ring the front doorbell and leave it on the porch shortly after we finished our traditional Christmas Eve meal of ham and potato salad.

I thought everyone celebrated the holy night this way. Only after I grew up did I learn that we probably followed an Americanized version of a Finnish Christmas tradition that my mom had learned from her immigrant grandparents.

The Finnish Santa is called Joulupukki. He dresses not in red velvet but in fur. He bears gifts to children in Finnish homes on Christmas Eve. Instead of sliding down a chimney after they go to bed, he knocks on doors during waking hours and asks whether any good children dwell there. All the well-behaved youngsters receive a gift from him. In appreciation, they sing carols.

Usually, we in our American household did not see Santa/Joulupukki in person on Christmas Eve. My mom explained that he was in too much of a rush to wait for us to answer the door. He simply dropped off our gifts and hurried on.

This year, I was re-introduced to Joulupukki when he attended our local Finnish Christmas party. We welcomed him with a traditional song ( Then he presented gifts to all the good children, but none of my own grandchildren were there. This got me thinking.

I decided to resurrect the idea of Joulupukki in a small way for my family this Christmas. I signed some of my gift tags with “Joulupukki” instead of “Gran and Granddad”. Then I waited to see if anyone would notice.

Our eldest granddaughter, a 16-year-old, asked about the unfamiliar tag. That question gave me an opening to explain about Joulupukki and to share a bit of my (their!) Finnish heritage.

I tried, but the grandchildren did not seem very interested in this tradition when so much other gift-giving went on around them. Even so, they have now heard the story. They may remember it if I decide to have Joulupukki make another visit next year.

These children, just 6.25% Finnish, know so little of the traditions their family brought from the old country. Much was lost in my grandparent’s determination to become American. Perhaps I can use the story of Joulupukki to reclaim some of what we have forgotten and pass it along.



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