Door 1: Traditions

Like all families, mine had several Christmas traditions. They were of different sizes, and some of them came and went while others have stayed to this day and have been passed on to Son and Daughter.

The three big ones were Xmas Eve drive, dinner, and movies.

One thing they all have in common is that they all have something to do with the relativity of time.

When I was a small boy and very excited and nervous about Xmas Eve, Mom and Dad wanted to keep me busy as much of the day as possible. Since it was also the only day of the year when there were cartoons and other children’s shows on TV early in the morning, they parked me in front of the TV until about noon while Dad was at work and Mom worked with Xmas preparations at home.

She’d watch the declaration of Xmas peace from Turku, Finland, and pretty soon Dad would come home from work and we were ready for Xmas. Except that Dad thought and thinks that waiting – unlike Tom Petty sang – was the best part. I think he just wanted to postpone Santa’s visit as long as possible because, let’s face it, after the presents had been handed out, Xmas was over.

(Except, another tradition that has survived to this day is that after Santa has left the house, we all say that Xmas is most definitely over, but “this is when it begins!”)

But, since Santa could only come to our house after we had had our dinner, and we most definitely couldn’t eat dinner in the afternoon, even though it gets dark in the afternoon in Finland in December and I could have had a bite, there was a gap that we had to fill.

And he suggested what he always suggested when he was bored.

“Let’s go for a drive,” he’d say. And we’d go for a drive.

When I was in single digits, we’d go for a drive around downtown Helsinki to see if we could see Santa out and about, and if we did – which we always did – we’d have a pretty good idea of when he might make it to our suburban home. Dad, obviously, always had the best estimate and I was often off by hours.

When I was in my teens and we had moved to Joensuu, we no longer went Santa spotting, but instead, we drove to my grandparents’ graves. We’d dig a hole in the snow, and put candles there, then stand there quietly for a short while, and drive home.

And at home, it was time for tradition number two. The dinner. The dinner is surely a tradition in every family and it must have looked about the same in ours, too, but that wasn’t Tradition Number Two.

Every year, as we sat down to eat the ham and the Finnish dishes, and the pies and the cheese and the rest, Dad would bring out his camera, put it on a tripod and take a family photo.

But that wasn’t the tradition I’m talking about.

The tradition was that after the photo, Dad would look at Mom and me and say, “And this year, it’ll be a long dinner and we’ll eat really slowly.”

(Again, putting off Santa’s appearance, of course).

By the time I was in my teens, I didn’t mind that Santa came late because we now had our Tradition Number Three in place.

Since Dad was the manager of an appliance store in a small town, he had all kinds of deals in place. One of them was with the local video store that had got a very deal for their TV sets, and in exchange, Dad got to rent videos for free.

At Christmas, we would load up on movies and on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I’d stay at home and watch a movie after another: James Bond, Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Moon, Spies Like Us, Dirty Harry, you name it, we watched it.

One of them was Gremlins, the 1984 horror comedy. I only watched it once, probably on Christmas Day 1985, and for decades I remembered having loved the movie. In my mind, it was a great Christmas movie, warm and fuzzy, even.

And that’s why, a few years ago, I decided to make it an official Christmas Tradition in our house. I bought the DVD, sat Son and Daughter (and Wife) on the couch as I ceremoniously pushed “play” on the remote. I think the rest of the family was with me  early on when the protagonist gets his Gizmo, and sells Xmas trees, and everything is, just like I remembered, warm and fuzzy.

When the hero’s buddy spills water on Gizmo and the gremlins come out, Son and Daughter started to have doubts but I didn’t let them leave the couch. When one of the gremlins explodes in a microwave oven, they both jumped to their feet, and screamed.

And that’s how our Christmas tradition of me digging up the Gremlins DVD and the kids yelling “never!” started.

It’s not the same as my family used to have and it’s not what I had planned. But it’s a Christmas tradition just the same.


This is the From The Desk of Risto Pakarinen 2017 advent calendar. Behind every door, you’ll find something related to the 1980s.

How does that make you feel?