Our merry jaunt through the shadowy, frozen woodlands suddenly went wrong. I was towing a sled carrying an enormous wicker basket jam-packed full of Christmas tree decorations. The icy path transformed from smooth snow to wooden grooves. The sled feet slipped into the groove, shifting the weight sideways. Without glancing back I gave it a firm tug and that’s when it happened.
In semi-slow-motion the basket skidded off the sled and ungraciously tumbled headlong into the deep, fresh snow. In the darkness it was hard to see what had transpired, but the sound was unmistakable. The lonely solitude of the all-encompassing forest amplified every noise. It was clear that hundreds of shiny Christmas baubles littered the snow, tinkling against one another in a delicate chorus.
Someone brought a candle over. I quickly heaved the basket back onto the sled and there they were in all their red, green and gold glory. Splashed lavishly across the pure white snow. Damn!
We were picked up by their shuttle bus from our hotel and driven deep into the Finnish forest. Once we stepped out there were two lovely lady elves waiting to eagerly greet us.
I will never forget that voice. It was high-pitched and innocently giggly. The girls stayed in character the entire time, even when talking one-on-one to us adults. They were wonderful actresses and the kids were completely convinced they had met Santa’s actual elves living right there in the Finnish woods.
We moved out of the cold snow into a nearby wooden kota, and sat around a cosy fire. The elves introduced themselves and provided us with their backstory of how they studied for 99 years to become Santa’s helpers. Much to the kids delight, they were happy to give us a speedy lesson in the most important elfish skills.
First they taught us how they peek through windows to check if the children are naughty or nice for Santa’s list, followed by learning how to tiptoe silently. As we had arrived recently from our flight, we hadn’t had any time for food before Joulukka. So it was a delight when the next lesson involved decorating gingerbread cookies.
Trays of heart-shaped gingerbread cookies were brought out along with icing and sprinkles to make the perfect Christmas cookies. They were delicious and lots of fun.
After we polished off all our cookies it was time for a walk through the woods.
The whimsical woods were pitch black by 4pm in the afternoon. Minimal illumination added to the mystery. All I could see was a crunchy snowy path of white with the occasional candle. Our guides both grabbed a small candle and we made our way through. It was scary. I felt like I was inside a fairytale walking to grandmother’s house from Little Red Riding Hood, or on my way to the witch’s candy-laden home from Hansel & Gretel. I was surprised the kids skipped along the path howling and giggling.
At the end of the path a cottage in the distance was illuminated with the same scary welcome you expected from a fairy tale gone wrong. Maybe it was just my overactive imagination. But inside was a gorgeously decorated wooden cabin with long timber tables ready for our arrival.
Our next elf lesson was how to bake a traditional Finnish Christmas pastry called “tähtitorttu” (star + pastry/tart). The tähtitorttut are made from puff pastry, with a dab of plum jam in the centre. Fun to make and delicious to eat. We knew this was going to become a delicious feature in our upcoming Christmas dinner.
After we made our pastries, the elves, ever mindful of hungry children, brought out a traditional Scandinavian holiday dish, Finnish Rice pudding. It’s commonly served during Christmas and the winter solstice. I have to admit I wasn’t a fan, but Josh devoured enough for everyone.
We moved tables to create Christmas decorations. Cute little pinecones with cotton wool for beards or hair, and cute pointy red hats. Placing some string on them and we had instant Christmas baubles for our Christmas tree.
But we didn’t have a Christmas tree!
In the meantime the pastries were cooked to perfection and we gobbled them down, burning our tongues in the haste to devour their crispy deliciousness. With fuller tummies we placed hats and gloves back on for another jaunt through the woods.
We once again wandered through the Lapland winter darkness, this time in search for the perfect Christmas tree. A snowy white path wound between the pine trees with the occasional lantern casting an eerie glow over the enchanted woods. Almost like the entrance to the magical world of Narnia.
I was pulling along a sled filled with Christmas decorations. The elves squealed in elation at having found the perfect tree and put on a little show cutting it down and hoisting it onto their shoulders. In my hasty retreat to move out of the way of the oncoming tree I tugged the sled, which had settled into a groove in the path and the heaving basket of Christmas decorations shifted, titled and poured it’s entire contents into the white, very cold, snow.
These elves were professionals. And quick on their feet. They decided then and there to change our tree beautifying plans and we would simply decorate on this spot with all the baubles on the forest floor. They planted the tree in the snow. Brought a few candles out and, under sparkling starlight, we decorated a Christmas tree. The twinkling candlelight danced around us and feather-soft snowflakes gently fell on our cheeks.
Enchanting. Magical. Everything Christmas should be.
We took photos with our perfect tree to commemorate this unique and special evening, and then the visit was concluded. We floated back to our bus to return to our hotel. I say floated, but I think we may have all been walking. Walking on cloud nine.