by Carolynne Wilcox
I’ve always been a cynic – from the time I figured out Santa didn’t actually exist (I figured it out shortly after my 8th Christmas, because Santa had stopped both at Grandma’s house AND our apartment that year, which didn’t seem logical – plus he seemed to have several different types of handwriting, which seemed fishy to me). Which was why I never bothered even entering the “meet Santa” lottery that year. My friend Megan entered my name, and wouldn’t you know it, I WON. I rolled my eyes in disdain. Oh goody, I thought, I get to go have my photo taken with some mall santa and get a candy cane and maybe an autograph. Yipeee.
WELL. The next day, the doorbell rang, and I found a big red box stood on my doorstep, complete with a glittery green bow. I thought I heard a high-pitched giggle, but I didn’t see anyone. When I opened the box, a huge burst of glitter hit me in the face – which normally would’ve made me sneeze, but it seemed to hit my cheek with a tingle and then burst out of existence – that was odd, but I dismissed it, finding an envelope inside, resting on something red and furry, which turned out to be a heavy, warm snowsuit! Inside the envelope was a ticket to Finland, with instructions I was to be picked up at the Helsinki airport and transported to my destination. I was to leave the following week.
I’d seen the Gordon Ramsay buddy program where he teamed up with two other Europpean dudes in the culinary industry and gone to “the north pole” in Finland, so I assumed this must be where I was going – definitely cooler than a mall santa, for sure! But nothing could’ve prepared my cold, cynical heart for what was to come next.
A small man with pointy ears greeted me at the airport, said his name was Sven, and seemed to know exactly who I was, and shuttled me “this way” with his adorable what I assumed was Finnish accent. I was groggy and jetlagged, so I let him escort me to his car, which was just an ordinary SUV, a red Nissan Pathfinder, I think, but as I said, I was exhausted, and promptly fell asleep in the backseat.
I woke up what must’ve been hours later. It was dark and the SUV had stopped. Sven was nowhere to be found, but there was a knock at the backseat door, which then opened and a smaller man with pointier ears, who proclaimed himself as Gunter escorted me through the snowy woods...which would’ve been pitch black, but for the brilliant northern lights dancing above our heads. We came to a small clearing with a tiny log cabin. We set my things down in the cabin and I didn’t really have a good look around, because he took me outside again and showed me a little sauna outhouse as well as a small hole dug into a frozen lake with a ladder. He instructed me to remove my clothes, get into the sauna for 15 min, quickly jump into the freezing hole, and then go back into the cabin and bathe.
Dumbfounded, but always hungry for a new adventure, I did as I was told – sweated profusely in the sauna where a tiny woman with pointy ears (Lilja) helped me keep track of the time in the sauna. It felt exhilarating to leave the boiling sauna and go out into what must’ve been significantly below-zero air, and I jumped eagerly into the hole, but climbed up the ladder twice as fast, where Lilja handed me a robe and escorted me back to the cabin, where she put me in a tub of water that was the perfect temperature between warm and scalding, and proceeded to scrub me nearly raw with a salt-scrub and hard-bristled brush! Afterwards, she brought me the softest red, woolen pajamas and put me at a table laden with figs, berries, rye bread, butter, cheese and smoked, salted fish. There was also a creamy salmon soup. While I devoured EVERYTHING, because I didn’t realize how hungry I was, and it was all delicious, Lilja built a roaring fire in the fireplace. The she left, but not without instructing me to sleep well – “you’ll need it!”, and to be ready in the red snowsuit at dawn.
Being a habitual insomniac and sleeping for so many hours on the way from the airport, not to mention being intrigued about what was to come, I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep at all, but like with everything else, I’d underestimated the experience. I hopped into the little twin bed, which was like lying on a firm, pillowy cloud, the most comfortable mattress I’d ever been lucky enough to rest my body on, and hopped on my phone to try and get a message to Megan, but barely registered I had no reception before I fell soundly asleep, waking up who knows how many hours later in exactly the same position, with the phone lying on my chest, feeling completely refreshed and tingly.
It was still dark outside, but according to my phone (which was fully charged, despite the fact I fell asleep before I could charge it!), it was dawn...not much light that far north in December, I surmised.
There was new, clean and steaming bathwater for me again, and, as if on cue, a knock at the door, wherein Lilja took me out to repeat the sauna/cold plunge/bath-and-salt-scrub experience again. Lilja told me to be ready in an hour.
The fire was still roaring in the fireplace, and there was food on the table – similar to the night before, rye bread, cheese, butter, salted fish, plus little pies and pastries, berries, and some hot, stiff coffee. Once again, I discovered a roaring appetite within, and devoured EVERYTHING. I looked outside again, to see things had lightened up to a dim twilight, and guessed it must be a typical December morning around these parts.
I put on my red snowsuit, and thank goodness there was no mirror so I couldn’t see how ridiculous I must’ve looked! I grabbed my phone again to see I had about 10 minutes left, just enough to trot a quick message off to Megan! But of course, I still had no bars, so I just sat for awhile, allowing my thoughts to catch up to me, and wondering about the experience that was to come.
At this point, I wouldn’t exactly have called myself a True Believer, but a spark of belief was beginning to take root inside me, once I tallied up all the slightly magical things that had already taken place seemingly before my eyes, starting with the disappearing glitter bomb from the initial package. A knock at the door bounced me out of my reverie – it was Gunter, again, waiting to escort me to The Man Himself – St Nicholas, Papa Noel, Father Christmas, I was ready to meet Santa Claus!
TO BE CONTINUED
Day to day thoughts, rants and mental detritus.