With quiet gentle steps, Christmas arrives.

And it’s time for magical tales told around the fireplaces. 

Christmas eve is mystical. It is holy.

It is the eve when a child was born, under the brightest star, in the sweetness of a manger and in the loving arms of his mother; a child who then grew up to teach us all about the power of love, and the human heart. He, not merely as a God, but as a man, of human flesh and skin, with human lips and human hands, revolutionized the spirit. He came upon our earth to remind us, show us, and awaken within us, what love looks like – what compassion looks like, what generosity looks like, what support looks like, what forgiveness looks like, what kindness looks like, what tenderness looks like, what grace looks like.

Tenderness, generosity, kindness, compassion, appreciation, gratitude, playfulness, curiosity, forgiveness, a smile and a holding hand. Love comes in many shapes and forms, in different speeds and movements. And when we choose to not simply view it a beautiful idea high in the sky, almost untouchable or too divine, we can embody it through our lips and hands. It is in our ordinary gestures throughout the years, along the circling staircases of life, time and age, where we find that true miracles begin with human moments.

As a child, and still, Christmas eve was my favourite time of year. There is just something so magical in the air. I loved how we’d all gather together; how I’d hear the laughter of my family, how the scents of warm food would fill the little house, tucked away amidst the snow and cold outside. Candle flames and Christmas lights, like stars. Of course, I couldn’t wait for the clock to strike midnight, so that I’d be surprised as if by magic, with gifts under the Christmas tree.

And yet it wasn’t about the gifts – it was some mysterious magic, as if something was supposed to happen at midnight. I’d go out on the terrace, under the quietness of stars and skies, look up carefully, studying everything; all my senses sharpened as if I was a leopard, and wait, and observe, and wonder in anticipation, what will happen? Will the skies open and God will appear? Will I see a falling star? Or an omen in the skies, a special message? Will the world change? Or perhaps an animal will appear and surprise me? I’ll follow it if it does.

I just always felt like there was something special about this night, something really mystical, and the sense or energy of it felt almost palpable, tangible. And I knew that whatever I was wishing for will be heard, especially on this night, and that if there ever was a time to be enchanted, this was it. Looking back now I know I was already enchanted, already blessed, because all that ever mattered to me was love and my family.

I grew up with stories and fairytales. Everything from Bulgarian folk tales, to Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm, all the way to the distant lands of Thousand and One Nights. But I had one precious book that I still hold today, Tales from Moominvalley by Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson. My favourite times were when my mom would read me these stories and so to me, this book will always feel like my heart and home.

First published in 1962, Tales from Moominvalley features many tales such as Jansson’s most famous one The Invisible Child, and my personal favourite A Tale of Horror with my beloved, and very naughty, Little My (Little Miu).

As since tonight, Christmas eve, is a magical night of stories told around the fireplaces, I want to tell you another story from the book, The Fir Tree. It’s about how the Moomins stumbled on the true meaning of Christmas.

You see, the Moomins, very much like I, don’t particularly like cold weather. When snow falls, they go into hibernation. For this reason, they never even knew what Christmas was anyway.

And so it was that year too, long ago, on Christmas eve, when Moominvalley became covered in snow. Hemulen was sitting on the rooftop of the Moomin’s house, digging in the snow, as playful as he was, until his yellow gloves became so wet and bothering, that he threw them away. Suddenly, he started feeling restless, and perhaps a little annoyed, “There they are, the Moomins! Again, sleeping! Sleeping and sleeping, while I have to do all the work for Christmas!”

As his hands became colder and colder, he felt even more frustrated becase he didn’t remember where he threw his favourite yellow gloves just moments ago, and so he came crashing through the roof like an angry Santa demanding that the family wake up, get up, and get stressed out about Christmas too. “Christmas is coming! Don’t you know, Christmas? Stop sleeping and sleeping, Christmas is approaching fast! And I’ve made absolutely no arrangements yet myself and here they send me off to wake you from sleep. Everybody is running about like mad and nothing’s ready! Wake up, hurry!”

Startled and knowing nothing about Christmas, the Moomins assumed this thing called Christmas is a terrible monster that needs appeasing with presents, sparkles and a tree. Moominson said, “Mamma, wake up, some thing called Christmas is coming, nothing is ready and all are running mad! Maybe it’s a flood or who knows but we need to hurry!”

“Don’t worry son,” Moominpappa said, “Be calm, we’ll prepare and all will be well.”

And they all started running around like mad too. Moominpappa and son went to grab a fir tree, while Moominmamma cooked up a delicious meal as fast as a storm.

All the others from Moominvalley such as Gaffsie and the maiden Snork, joined to help too and decorate the tree. “I’ve heard it has to be decorated with beautiful things. The more beautiful the better,” said wisely the maiden Snork. “It might be a clever idea to also hide under our upturned table when the tree is all ready, so that the thing called Christmas can be humbled into goodness and not harm us with its cold mysterious powers,” said Moominpappa.

All great ideas! And so they did. Everyone gave their most beautiful possession to decorate the tree. They put little shells with bright colours from summer, and maiden Snork gave her jewelled necklace, attaching each little jewel on the fir’s branches. They took down the chandelier to use its sparkling crystals too, and on the top of the tree Moominmamma placed a beautiful red rose made of silk, that she had received from her father-in-law.

After a whole afternoon of cooking, Moominmamma was ready with the delicious meals, and just before the sun set, she placed under the tree little pots and cups with warm milk, fruit juices, a bread with berries, and many other treats. “The gifts, the gifts, don’t forget the gifts!” shouted the Hemulen. And so came time for the gift hunting. The Moomins started searching their tiny house for whatever gifts they could find. They didn’t know what this gift thing was supposed to be, but just like the tree decorations, they felt it should be something beautiful. So they searched their most precious possessions. The Snork maiden took off her ankle bracelet, and with a sigh, for she loved it so much, she wrapped it in a nice paper. Moominpappa opened his beloved box and took out his most beautiful fishing bait. He wrapped it with care and love, wrote on it “For Christmas”, and placed it gently under the fir tree. Moominmamma opened her most secret drawer and gave as a gift her book of colourful pictures, which was in fact the only colourful book in the entire valley.

The whole valley lit up with candles from the inside of the houses of all woodsie creatures, and they pressed their noses against the windows to see the magical big Christmas tree. One by one they all came out, with all their relatives too, and all little animals; they all gathered around the tree with such excitement and wonder!

“Merry Christmas!” one of them whispered as it passed by the Moomins. “Wow,” said Moominpappa, “You are the first one today who has said that Christmas is merry. Aren’t you afraid of it when it comes?” “But it’s already here!” said the sweet woodsie as it sat in the snow under the tree with its family, “Wow, there is so much to eat and drink, and there are real gifts too! All my life I’ve dreamed of seeing this Christmas magic!”

And then came a quietness, of harmony and peace. Of true happiness. The Moomins had by then retreated under the upturned table as they thought they should, and yet all they would see was the sweet woodsies and tiny creatures and animals, who had longed to see a real beautifully decorated tree their whole lives. They all sat in the snow, around the warmth of the oil lamp, under the tree, more happier than ever before, with rosy cheeks and big smiles, unwrapping gifts, embracing in hugs. They even started climbing the branches and placing some more candles for even more light and sparkles.

“It’s all so perfect and the rose is beautiful,” said one of the woodsies, “though I believe it should have been a star on top.”

“Really?” said the other woodsie, “I think if the idea is true, of heart and spirit, it doesn’t matter what is on top.”

“Oh,” whispered Moominmamma, “We should have had a star. But how are we supposed to find a star? It’s impossible.”

At this very moment, they all looked up towards the infinite winter sky.

There were so many stars, more than they’d ever seen before in spring and summer.

And there was one, the brightest of them, as if by magic, she was right above the fir tree. I believe she was smiling too.

Seeing all this, and in typical Moomin fashion, it was on this day and holy night when the Moomins stumbled on the true meaning of Christmas; that this is a time for giving, for sharing wholeheartedly and unstintingly with others in need.

Tove Jansson wrote about her magical Christmas and the casting spell of the Christmas tree in her 1948 memoirs also:

“The smaller you are, the bigger Christmas is. Underneath the Christmas tree Christmas is vast, it is a green jungle with red apples and peaceful angels twirling around on cotton thread keeping watch over the entrance to the primaeval forest. In the glass balls the primaeval forest is never-ending, and yet under the Christmas tree there is always comfort and safety. The feeling of love under the branches is almost unbearable, a compact feeling of holiness.

It’s true, it is holy. Because we have each other, because we love each other.

The Holy Night (The Nativity) by Carlo Maratta, 1650

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Cover art: Mumindalen papperskalender by Lars Jansson, Gotlands museum, via Wikimedia Commons.

In text illustration are scanned from my book “Tales from Moonminvalley” by Tove Jansoon.

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