Christmas started early for me this week with the wonderful annual Scandinavian Christmas street market on Albion Street in London.  This market has been going for about 10 years now and this year was the biggest yet.  Stalls selling Norwegian knitwear, Swedish seeded rye bread with scrumptious smoked salmon pate, Estonian warming fast food and of course cool Finnish design and our lovely Joulupukki (Father Christmas himself!)
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Rotherhithe in South London is a bit of a Nordic hub.  There’s the Swedish church on Lower Road, and the Norwegian and Finnish churches on Albion Street.  All churches are Seamen’s churches and where seafarers and immigrants during the late 19th Century from Scandinavia could congregate and maintain their unique Nordic identity.  I have been going to the Finnish Seamen’s Church since I was a baby – I was Christened there!  My mum then took me fortnightly to the Finnish Saturday School which was held at the church.  The lessons were very informal and although we did read and have homework it was more about chatting in Finnish, drawing, playing and have a few hours of being little Finns.  I did love it.
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I have been going to the Christmas Market at the church since I can remember.  As a teen I helped out in the kitchen peeling potatoes and prepping other veg.  One year I worked on the confectionary stall selling my favourite Fazer chocolate and delicious liquorice.  Nowadays I’m there to support the church and stock up on Finnish goodies.
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The church stocks all of the staples a Finn would need:

That really is a very limited list, there was so much more!
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We started off by going outside to the grill.  They were serving grilled sausages, mashed potato, reindeer, pea soup and a selection of soft and alcoholic drinks.  All were accompanied by delicious dark rye bread and lingonberry jam.  I had reindeer and mash (sorry Rudolph) and the children shared a sausage and mash.  We discovered that Ezra loves rye bread.  It’s nothing like bread as Brits know it. Finnish rye bread is dark, strong and fairly chewy.  I think it tastes best when lightly toasted with some melting margarine spread over the top.  Ezra took the whole piece and over the space of about 20 minutes devoured the lot!
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Next we went inside to the café upstairs.  We shared a Scandi smoked salmon open sandwich which is rye bread with lettuce, cucumber, smoked salmon and dill, a filter coffee and 2 cinnamon buns (‘korvapuusti’ which is a cinnamon and cardamom swirl bun).  Once we had eaten our fill we went back downstairs to shop.  The prices aren’t cheap.  Already expensive food is marked up due to the transportation and import costs and to raise money for the church.  We treated ourselves to:

  • Ruisleipä (rye bread)
  • Karjalanpiirakka (savoury rice pudding parcel)
  • Muumi toothpaste (Moomins!)
  • Felix Sinappikurkkusalaatti (pickle mustard salad)
  • Auran Sinappi – tulinen (strong mustard)

I could have filled my basket over and over again but this was enough for us.  We still have some supplies left over from our trip to Finland this summer.
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Whilst we were shopping we bumped into Muumipeikko (Moonintroll) and Pikku Myy (Litte My).  The Moomins were created by Swedish-speaking Finn Tove Jonsson.  She created the Moomin characters and wrote books which were published in the mid-late 1940s.  The stories are so typically Finnish with an absolute focus on family and the natural world.  Moomins are more popular than ever, both in Finland and the world over.  I tried to encourage Violet to agree to have a photo taken.  As interested as she was in the giant Moomin Troll wandering around the fair she did NOT want to pose for a photo.  So here’s me grinning with Muumipeikko with Violet’s face buried in my neck and you can just about see Ezra’s foot peeking out from my back!
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We left the church with our tummies full, our senses topped up with Finnishness and bags full of treats.  I am so proud of my Finnish heritage and hope that my children will one day also feel that stamp of unique Finnish identity in their hearts.

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