Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 24 November 2012

Is it my imagination or have I just been able to avoid the over-early signs of Christmas this year? Until this weekend that is: a Scandinavian Christmas market in Rotherhithe. Not so out-of-place as it might sound, because from the days of the docks, there are Norwegian and Finnish seamen's missions established close together and almost within sight of the river; so their Christmas markets combined with a series of commercial stalls along the street between them, to make an all-Scandinavian event.

Plenty of the traditional Christmas, of course, but instead of Santa's sleigh a pair of huskies (not that many seemed to be paying for a ride in the sled - there was hardly the road-space for it, for one thing). There was also plenty of what you might expect from Scandinavia at any time of year: bright designs and bakery (saffron buns or chocolate honey cakes, anyone?), smoked fish, strong drink, knitwear, Moomins, and sweets with names that mean something else in English.

But that was Danish; Finnish being such a singular language, the chances of unfortunate similarities to English are rare. Looking along the shelves of the temporary supermarket in the Finnish church, even the most ordinary sorts of foods appear mysteriously exotic. What about some makkara and hernekeitto with a Lapin Kulta for lunch? Don't worry, that's sausage and pea soup with a bottle of beer.

Oh, and even in Finland, would you expect to see a sauna in a church? Well, it's one way to celebrate a hyvää juolua.

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