Monday, February 16, 2009

#4.2 Christmas Town!

Rovaniemi Finland is the capital of Christmas. Every year around 50,000 eager tourists pay a visit to this winter wonderland, and to Santa's official residence on the arctic circle. Now keep in mind that there's only about 60,000 permanent residents, so it was pretty crowded. It was weird to be in the city and hear snipits of conversations in British English or German or Russian. After a few weeks I was sick of all the tourists. In the center of town in front of Sampokeskus they put up a giant Christmas tree, and tourists could be seen pulling their kids in sleighs around it. They also set up rows of booth where people sold over priced touristy items like Sami made woolly mittens and socks as well as bits of reindeer horns and pelts. They were always crowded by eager tourists, anxious to spend there money to show people back home that they had survived for a few days of life in the cold and dark arctic circle. I found them really annoying for some reason!You could instantly tell the tourists apart from the natives. Most of them were wearing unfashionable one piece snowsuits obviously borrowed from the hotel to cope with the sub zero (Celsius) temperatures. Where as the native Finns were resplendent in their oh so fashionable coats and voluminous scarfs, draped just so, and cute little hats and mittens. The freezing temperatures gave them a bit of color in their pallid faces that seams to be missing the rest of the year. The contrast was comical. I wondered where I fit in in these things. Did I look like a native or not? I had that question answered a few times over when different people came up to me and asked questions about where to find certain things in English, and I was able to give them directions. Sometimes they would thank me by saying an awkward 'Kiitos!' (Thank you in Finnish) It sounded cute and unnecessary to my ears.

It was getting cold and dark. I really started to notice it when one day I walked to the city after school at about 2:00pm and the sun was setting quickly and the temperature was a bone chilling -22 Degrees Celsius (thats about -10ish degrees Fahrenheit) When your outside at in that temperature you freeze after about 5 steps. The cold is complete and all encompassing. Your face feels like its going to fall right off. The snot in your nose freezes after a minute or 2 and you have these little icicles tickling your nose, its pretty gross when you go inside and they melt. I had a lot of Finns tell me that when they were kids it would regularly go down to -30 C, but because of global warming, that doesn't often happen during the day.
The days were really short now, only an hour or so of daylight. I kinda liked it. It makes everything inside feel so much cozier, and it's easier to sleep. It was about then, when it was at its darkest that my Host Dad decided to pack up and go to the Mökki ('summer cottage') for Christmas!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

#4.1 The Holidays Begin at School

On Friday December 12th I came to school early. For once someone had tipped me off that something different, and possibly exciting was going to happen! People had a bit of trouble actually explaining to me what was going to happen, all they could tell me that it was Lusian Päivä which translates to Lucy's day. They told me that she was a saint and they always have a little celebration for her. OH thats when I got it!! It was also my mom's birthday and she was named after St. Lucy... Don't you just love those little moments of illumination?

There was a visiting Elementary School who was going to give a little performance and then everyone would have a snack in the lobby. I meet up with some friends and helped them prepare the snack. We started heating up Glögi, this traditional Finnish holiday drink. Its kind of like a berry cider sweet and spicy, and it gives you that warm and fuzzy holiday feeling inside. Then we had Finnish gingerbread cookies, which are also really good, just a bit thinner and more buttery.
Once the snack was just about ready we went down to the Gym where all the major social events take place. We sat at the back so we could have an easy escape so we could be ready to serve out the snacks. One end of the gym floor can be raised about a meter to form a stage of some sort. There were about 10 little girls all dresses in white waring either white conical hats or candles. It was a celebration of illumination, which we needed at that point, as any daylight we got was week and didn't last long. They sung songs in Finnish and Swedish. Then out came the dancing gingerbread cookies. They were really cute! I wish i had brought my camera, but here's a typical picture of the type of performance.
Around that time, there was a different kind of ceremony that went on in the Gym. About 10 people graduated from Lukio, one of them was a friend of mine. In Lukio you have the option to graduate in either 3, 3½, or 4 years depending on how hard you study. The Gym was all decked out with snow flakes and swans that I had helped make in art class. Everything was blue and white, very patriotic of them. Also the Swan is Finland's official bird.

The ceremony started out rather somber. Every one stood as the Finnish flag was carefully carried in, followed by the Schools flag. The National Anthem was sung and then everyone sat down. There were a few performances from students. A school band played and a few girls put together a dance. It reminded me of DSA. Next there were some speeches, then it was time for the graduates to get their diplomas and their hats. Unlike American graduation ceremonies, you get your hat instead of wearing it to begin with. The hats also look a bit different then ours. Here's a picture.
All in all the ceremonies weren't all that different. It reminded me that my own graduation was not that far off, less then a year and a half to go. Time that I knew would go buy in the blink of an eye. I have little idea of what I wasn't to do with my life. And I know next to nothing about colleges, when some kids my age already has a prioritized list of universities. I froze up for a minute, fear of the unknown future sending me careening into blackness. I have so little time left! Just about a year and a half before i have to make up my mind about my life and what I really want to do with it, a decision I've been dreading since I was 7 and decided that no i didn't really want to be a veterinarian, and would have to decide upon another career. Well There was nothing I could do about it now. But from then on it would be the little dog constantly gnawing at my ankle.

The atmosphere in school had changed. The way when any anxious study weary student gets when the freedom of Christmas vacation is only hours away. As if the long drawn out Friday classes weren't enough, they made us come in that Saturday for the school Christmas party. There was to be a little performance, followed by lunch and then you went and visited your homeroom class where the grades from the first two jaksos would be passed out.
I had somehow been roped into one of the performances by the English teacher. She had asked if I would mind reading a little something out loud in English and I agreed. I got there early on Saturday so I would have a little time to rehearse. It turned out that I would be reading a little excerpt from the bible about the birth of Christ. There were 3 Other people who would be reading other passages from the same excerpt in different languages. First in French, then German, them me with English and lastly in Swedish with a song in the middle. Nothing I couldn't do, except i had the worst hacking cough! It would take everything i had not to cough into the mike and choke up on my words in front of hundreds of people. I don't usually get stage fright as I'm usually on stage some way or another every day back home, its just something about the Finnish people at my school scares me enough to send me running. I can't explain it.
Luckily we were one of the first groups to go so I didn't have to sit in my cloud of butterflies for long. It went with out a hitch. I read my lines slowly and clearly with the perfect pronunciation of a native English speaker. What was I worried about? I didn't even cough on stage!!

The rest of the show was Good! They had a team of gymnasts from are school do a pretty crazy routine involving flips and a trampoline. there was also an intense tango from a couple that goes to our school. (Finland is crazy about tango for some reason..go figure!) There was more Singing and then we got a visit from a very famous Finn. Joulupukki!!! Literally translated it means 'the Christmas goat' but it refers to Santa Clause! It took me a while of listening to this particular Santa to realise that i knew him under all that red fur and white hair. he was one of my friends form school! He threw out some candy, made us sing some more songs and then was off.
After the show I had some people come up too me and said that I did a good job, that i Speak really good English! ha Finnish humor.
I went to my home room where they handed out the grades. I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't much. Turns out I got a 10/10 in English a 9.5 in art, a 7 in Geography and a 7 in Chemistry. which I think is pretty good since they were taught in Finnish. The rest of my teachers in all the rest of my classes didn't give me a grade for some reason or another. I had some porridge from the cafeteria and then I was free to go!!