By Bill Eagle for The Chronicle
Sulo Lahti lives in Quincy Oregon, a short distance from Clatskanie. HOME More of Bill's Published Writings
My friend is the child of Finnish immigrants and is one of the smartest and best read people you might want to find.
I drove into the Lahti's farmstead driveway and noticed my friend Sulo was carrying a Christmas tree that he had just cut. "My daughter Emmi wanted to be sure that we put a tree up. Last year we waited until it was almost Christmas and she and my wife Annie let me know, in no uncertain terms, that this was not about to happen again."
I laughed. "You will need a tree for Santa to put presents under."
Sulo put the tree down and then snickered "You know we Finns invented Santa."
"No," responded Sulo; "Joulupukki. He has a long white beard, wears a red leather suit, trimmed with fur and he carries a big sack filled with toys."
"Sounds like Santa to me."
"Ahh." said Sulo, "He doesn't live in the North pole, he lives in Lapland, his sleigh does not fly and he doesn't slide down any chimneys, he politely knocks on doors.
Joulupukki walks into a house and says: "Onko täällä kilttejä lapsia?"(Are there well-behaved children here?)"
"What if the children aren't well-behaved?"
Sulo chuckled "In that case he grabs them, stuffs them into his sack and takes them back to Lapland to live with the gnomes until they learn to become well behaved."
I asked sulo "Have you ever played the part of Joulupukki?"
"Funny that you should ask," responded Sulo. " A few years back my uncle Eino in Astoria, once conned me into playing Santa. You can't believe how well behaved or nice the children were."
Sulo grinned "The thing that I loved was the mothers. Joulupukki, unlike Santa, is thin. Lots of the kids mothers were intent on making sure that I had enough to eat. They didn't want Joulupukki to go away hungry. "
Sulo continued "My uncle Eino told me that that many years ago, Joulupukki (Which means Goat man in Finnish) used to wear a hat with Rams horns on them and his sleigh was pulled by giant goats instead of reindeer. Times do change and Joulupukki has changed with the times."
We both laughed. I then asked him, "how about Christmas trees? Did the Finns invent them too?"
Sulo put on his serous face. "The ancient Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia, and Christians also used fir trees as a sign of everlasting life with God. European countries used Trees in Miracle plays that were acted out in front of Churches on Christmas Eve, but they were not decorated. Historians say that decorated Christmas trees were invented in Livonia, a country which now comprises both Estonia and Latvia sometime between 1440 and 1510.
The trees were put up by an association of unmarried merchants called the 'Brotherhood of Blackheads.'
They were put in their town squares and decorated with ribbons of various colors, along with apples, nuts, pretzels and colored paper flowers. People would dance around the trees, and then set them on fire. They would do this for both Christmas and New Years."
"You know," said I, "It sort of sounds like a May day celebration instead of a Christmas New Years thing. For a dumb farmer you sure seem to know a lot of stuff."
"I read books," chuckled Sulo. "I also have a 12 year old Daughter who sometimes needs help doing research."
"Yep," I replied, "You learn quite a bit when you help your kids with their school work.
So, our Christmas tree came from the Blackhead Brotherhood?"
Sulo shook his head "Not really." He picked his tree up and I followed him into his house.
"Some say that Martin Luther invented the Christmas tree as a Christian substitute for pagan worship.
Personally I don't think it matters. It's a good symbol, showing a love of beauty and is, indeed, a thing of joy. Years ago, when I was in the Navy, I visited Japan and was surprised to see Christmas trees, Santas and Christmas decorations. The Japanese love gift giving and they love celebrating Christmas"
I went home that evening and thought about Santa and Christmas trees. I really don't think that it matters who invented Santa, or if he is Joulupukki, Father Christmas or St. Nicolas, or for that matter who invented Christmas trees. What matters is the joy in giving, caring and sharing love and friendship with others.
The Eagle family wishes all a very Merry Christmas, and to those who are not Christians, a wonderful and happy holiday season.