Christmas is a BIG holiday here in Finland, and particularly so in Rovaniemi, home of the one-and-only real Santa Claus! Pikkujoulu (pee-coo-yo-lou), or Christmas parties, are therefore taken pretty seriously. A person can attend multiple ‘pikkujoulu’ during the holiday season with your various social groups (work, friends, family), and the first round of them occur on the last Friday of November (or as close to Nov. 30 as possible).
I’ve been making an effort to learn Finnish while I’ve been here, which means that I listen to a lot of Finnish podcasts, relevant only because they are constantly using pikkujoulu as a setting for dialogues and vocab lessons. So I was pretty comfortable with the concept of the pikkujoulu (particularly with what foods are traditional), and super excited to find that I was included in the one at Metla, where I work in Rovaniemi. I asked my host for a more specific DL on what to expect from the Metla pikkuloulu, and I was told that Metla actually has a reputation for being “wild and crazy”. For instance, despite the 3:30pm start time, it’s standard practice to stay until the the next morning, at which point you walk to the nearby pub (which opens at 10am) and continue the party there. It’s also the one time a year where it’s completely acceptable to get ‘crunk’ with your boss, and there’s generally at least one person who is… inappropriately honest, shall we say, with said boss whilst deep in their cups. In practice, the hard-core party mentality at Metla translates into (1) no open bar (although you can pay ‘on credit’ in the event that you’ve misplaced your wallet or run out of money); (2) the stairwells being blocked off (employees have taken tumbles that resulted in the need for serious medical attention, i.e. shoulder surgery); (3) a pre-party sauna (because what’s a Finnish party when it doesn’t start with the relaxing effects of a good sauna?); and the only thing that truly shocked me: (4) a ‘sex room’, which appeared at some point throughout the evening as a small room near the cafeteria (where the party was) and sported a sign-up sheet, where you could anonymously ‘x’ out 30-minute time slots. Side-note: Brandon and I didn’t discover this gem until 2:30am when we were leaving (I know, I know, lame!), at which point Brandon was frantic to escape a possible 3rd set of the band, and I was too impaired to put on my coat without help. Brandon is convinced that the sex room was a joke, and since I think I was the only person who actually brought my spouse (apparently not very Finnish of me), I’m choosing to accept his hypothesis.
The evening was also strangely (for my idea of a party) micromanaged – there was a pretty strict schedule of events (until around 2am). We started with small talk and glögi (with or without an aliquot of vodka from some lab glassware), then had a buffet-style appetizer time (separate from glögi time), and finally dinner (reindeer roast and boiled potatoes), then dessert (‘Christmas cheesecake’). There were quite a few speeches made throughout these eating and drinking periods, and a ‘lottery’ – the kind where you buy number slots (1-200), and if a number you bought gets drawn, you win! Prizes included chocolate advent calendars, wine, and moose meat (I was seriously bummed we didn’t get this one). Santa also made an appearance to hand out gift baggies to everyone, and there were a few SNL-style physical comedy skits put on by Metla employees, but I unfortunately couldn’t follow their Finnish well enough to understand.
At this point, the evening became more active – there was ‘traditional dancing’ for about an hour and a half; for Finns, this is waltz-like partner dancing to fast-paced, almost polka-like music (Brandon actually took to calling it ‘Finnish ABBA’). Needless to say, I thought this was the bee’s knees, and Brandon required a certain amount of coercing to get onto the dance floor. To be fair, I did get a few dances out of him, but this was due to my excellent negotiation skills. I also got asked to dance by a few of my coworkers, and I learned that 1) it’s extremely rude to decline an offer to dance, and 2) it’s really weird for the woman to ask the man (in fact, when I had given up on Brandon, I extended an offer to a nearby gentleman, and he just stared at me until I got so uncomfortable that I laughed it off and walked away). At 11:30, the hired band took to the stage. I had a blast dancing and singing along with the band (“The Bouncers”), who played a mix of American and Finnish covers.
After the second set, Brandon expressed his strong desire to go home, so we left. Verdict: Metla pikkujoulu was a little wild and crazy! These pictures pretty much perfectly sum up our pikkujoulu experiences, because in true Brandon & Kim fashion, our faces say it all:
And because he was there with me, and had a very different perspective and experience, welcome to our first guest-writer, Brandon:
So, if this pikkujoulu party taught me anything, it’s that Finnish drinking culture makes my college students (at The Princeton Review’s “#1 Party School,” no less) look like responsible young adults. Given that this was a party with a cash bar stocked mostly with light beer, it was frankly incredible. Also, METLA hired some sort of Finnish classic rock cover band to play after dinner. Inexplicably, this proved quite popular. If you’ve never had to watch a roomful of drunken, middle-aged northern Europeans dance feverishly to a series of linguistically-mangled Creedence Clearwater Revival covers, then count yourself lucky. I’ve spent a lot of time at seedy bars, and these guys were the worst bar band I’ve ever encountered in my life. About 45 minutes in, I started vividly imagining traveling back in time to murder Elvis and Chuck Berry, hopefully preventing rock and roll from ever being invented and thus sparing the world from this band’s existence.When they closed their second (!) set with “Paradise City,” it actually made the current incarnation of GnR seem totally competent and entertaining by comparison. Other than that, a delightful time was had by all.
(Kim again) With the party at Metla as a slightly fuzzy memory, I thought our pikkujoulu experiences were over, but we were invited to a home-based one with my Rovaniemi host, Minna! This one turned out to be really chill, and much more about food and conversations, which are always themes I appreciate. We had glögi, a smoked reindeer quiche, finger rolls of cream cheese and smoked reindeer with rieskat bread, salad and some fresh melon:
And for dessert, we had Finnish and Estonian chocolates, a sweet potato version of a pumpkin bundt cake I made for the occasion (pumpkin turns out to be impossible to find here in a form that’s not pickled [yick!]), and Minna made ‘joulutorttu’ (translates to ‘Christmas pastry’), which are yummy puff pastry with a sweet, prune center:
I think this chill, yummier version redeemed the institution of pikkujoulu for Brandon, and I had a really nice time just hanging out in this dinner-party-esque setting, which is pretty rare for me here. And you know a party is good when at some point in the evening you have to bust out a dictionary… :)