The snow came as no surprise to Joulumuori, otherwise known as Mrs Santa Claus. She’d known winter must be on its way when she saw the maahinen, who dwell underground, filling their stores, and the fairies rushing about looking for their mittens. These creatures always sense such things.
Well, now the snow lay all over Köngäs village and the ground between the houses at Taivaanvalkeat. As likely as not, people would already be skiing down the slopes at Levi just eight kilometres away, and preparing the cross-country ski tracks.
Joulumuori had seen hundreds of winters arrive, but the first snow never failed to bring a glow to her cheeks and a frisson of excitement into life at Tonttula, otherwise known as the House of Elves. It meant, of course, that it would soon be Christmas.
Santa Claus had retired to his cabin in the forest to gather his strength, but in all honesty this was not a time that Joulumuori would miss him. Because Santa had a way of worrying about everything, and rushing her and the tonttu (elves) and the reindeer when they had such a lot to do. The approach to Christmas meant busy days for Joulumuori, but she was ready for it.
She was preparing breakfast in the big room at Tonttula, and looking at the shelves laden with specimens of the elves’ handiwork. She knew there would be chaos when the elves woke up in their chambers and saw the snow!
And she was not mistaken.
Tallitonttu, the stable elf and eldest of the elves, never slept long in the morning. He was already out and about, busily feeding the horses. When he came indoors the glinting snow stars in his long beard began to melt in the heat from the open fire.
You could be forgiven for taking the stable elf for Santa Clause himself, they looked so much alike, but there all similarity ended. Being fond of tricks, Tallitonttu was trying to think up some clever ruse that would wake up the other elves. But first he took a peak over Joulumuori’s shoulder to see what deliciousness was cooking on the stove, and quickly grabbed himself a bite.
‘Get going with you, you old sweet-tooth. You’ll get your food at the same time as the others,’ Joulumuori chided him gently. At this, the stable elf stepped over to the door of the elves’ chamber and yelled, ‘Oh no, the horses and reindeer are loose! We must catch them or we’ll all be in trouble. How will we get the gifts to the children if the horses and reindeer have run away to another fell? We would never find them there!’
Tallitonttu laughed into his beard as Kotitonttu the house elf, Riihitonttu the drying-barn elf, Postitonttu the post elf, Leipuritonttu the baker elf, and Puutarhatonttu the garden elf all came rushing into the main room in their nightclothes.
‘Oh, they’ll be trampling my flowers,’ moaned the garden elf.
‘Tsk tsk, I’ll have to text all the neighbours. Where’s my cell phone? It won’t be as bad as you think. We’ll get the word round,’ the post elf chirped.
‘I’ll run and get the forest elf,’ said the drying-barn elf. ‘He knows all the shortcuts and will surely ask the wild animals to help us.’
Being somewhat tubbier than the others, last to arrive was the baker elf. He stepped slowly into the room, singing an aria he had begun the night before, and making the rest of the elves quite nervous.
‘Hurry up, Leipuritonttu. All the horses and reindeer have run off. This is an emergency and all you do is sing.’
‘Not to worry, not to worry. I know how to get the animals to come rushing back here. I’ll bake some bread and you’ll see how the delicious smells will entice them back home.’
‘He’s certainly sure of himself,’ murmured the others.
Amused, Joulumuori watched everyone falling for the stable elf’s prank. But by the time the post elf had started banging on the table with his fist as if he were using an old stamping machine and the garden elf was despondently gazing down at his toes, Joulumuori had had enough.
‘Don’t let that old stable elf fool you. Look out of the window instead. Winter is here!’
All the elves hurried outside still wearing their nightclothes, squealing with delight as they ran around the Tonttula yard throwing fistfuls of snow at one another.
All too soon, Joulumuori called them back in. ‘That’s enough of that, now. We can’t afford to let any of you catch a cold,’ she told them. ‘You all know what this snow means. It will soon be Christmas and we have some busy days ahead of us. Now come on in and have breakfast!’
As the elves enjoyed their breakfast they immediately began planning what needed to be done.
‘Is Santa up yet? Has he seen the snow?’ asked Kotitonttu the house elf.
‘Yes, yes. I had a text message from him earlier. The snow has rejuvenated him. You wait, he’ll soon be sending you long lists of instructions, just like every year,’ Joulumuori told them.
‘Let the lists come. We’ll do everything we can to make Christmas even more special for all children,’ declared Saunatonttu the sauna elf.
‘That reminds me, I must get off to see if the horses have finished eating,’ said Tallitonttu the stable elf, hurrying towards the door. ‘They’ll need to get out and smell the snow too.’
‘And I must start baking,’ said the baker elf. ‘Riihitonttu, could you please bring in some flour and sugar from the barn.’
‘Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Rome,’ murmured the post elf. ‘I must get the mail off to all parts of the world. It would be a disaster if the letters didn’t all reach the right people before Christmas. Chk chk. It’s a good thing there’s this here new technology,’ he added as his fingers tapped away on the keyboard.
Puutarhatonttu the garden elf looked out of the window at his beloved plants, all now bowed under a blanket of snow. Then his face brightened. ‘One wonderful thing about Christmas is that people buy lots of beautiful flowers for their homes and to give to one another. I had better go and tend my poinsettias.’
Joulumuori stepped to the middle of the room and took over.
‘Nobody’s going anywhere until we’ve had a meeting and sorted out everything we need to get done over the next few weeks. But get dressed first, then come back and sit at the table,’ she commanded.
Soon enough the elves were back, dressed in green, grey and red, and were seated around the table wondering what Joulumuori had in mind for them.
‘Now, you’ll all remember that in the run-up to Christmas we always see a lot of children here at Tonttula. The office elves at the Crazy Reindeer have already been asking me what sort of a show we’re going to put on for them,’ she said.
‘No problem. We love children. It’s great to have fun with them,’ said Kotitonttu the house elf.
‘We’ll build lots of surprises in the woods again, and put them on the tree branches and on the ground. The children are always thrilled to find them,’ Metsätonttu the forest elf assured her.
‘Good, good. I know you’ll be delighted to see the children,’ said Joulumuori, ‘but you must remember that they come from many countries and speak many different languages. I’m a little worried that your foreign-language skills may have got a bit rusty over the summer.’
‘Do we have to start studying now, when there is so much to do both indoors and out?’ complained the elves.
‘Let’s just agree that the teacher elf will be here every morning to give you classes.’
‘Very well then. We do have to know how to wish all children a Merry Christmas,’ the elves agreed. And like little children themselves, the elves all shouted out:
Hyvää Joulua! God Jul! Fröhliche Weihnachten! S roshdestvom hristovym! Merry Christmas!