‘Joy and peace prevail…’

25 December 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Dear readers,

to celebrate the change of the year we publish an extract from Aleksis Kivi’s 1870 classic novel, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers), translated by David Barrett, and a bit of a classic of our own too: it’s a nostalgic glimpse of a Finnish Christmas spent in a humble cottage inhabited, in addition to the eponymous seven brothers, a horse, cat, cockerel and two dogs (at least). Enjoy!

Soila Lehtonen & Hildi Hawkins & Leena Lahti

On a festive night

It is Christmas Eve. The weather has been mild, grey clouds fill the sky, hills and valleys are covered with the snow that has only recently begun to fall. The forest gives out a gentle murmur, the grouse goes to roost in the catkined birch, a flock of waxwings descends on the reddening rowan, while the magpie, daughter of the pine-wood, carries twigs for her future nest.

Alike in lowly cottage and stately manor-house, joy and peace prevail: not least in the log-cabin in the Impivaara clearing, where the brothers have made their home. Outside the door you can see the load of straw that Valko has hauled all the way from Viertola manor, to be spread on the cabin floor in honour of Christmas. Even here, it seems, the brothers have not forgotten the rustle of the Christmas straw, the most dearly cherished of their childhood memories.

But from within the dwelling comes the hiss of steam, as water is thrown on the hot stones, and the swish of the soft, leafy birch-twigs. For the brothers are giving themselves a rigorous Christmas bath. And when at last the stones have ceased to give off their searing heat, they climb down, put on some clothes, and sit down to rest on the planks that, for lack of benches, have been set along the walls. There they sit, huffing and puffing and streaming with sweat.

The room is lit by a flaring strip of shingle; Valko, at his feed-box, champs a meal of oats, for they have not forgotten that it is Christmas for him too; the cockerel, perched on his beam above them, dozes and yawns; Killi and Kiiski are lying by the stove with their chins on their paws, while the old grey cat from Jukola purrs contentedly on Juhani’s knee.

At length Timo and Simeon set about preparing the table for supper, while the others carry in the bundles from outside. Undoing the cords, they spread the straw over the floor to a depth of about a foot, but more thickly over the raised platform where they spend their evenings and sleep at night.

Now at last the meal is ready; the table is set with seven ring-loaves, two oaken tubs of steaming bear-meat, and a pailful of beer. They have brewed the beer themselves, mindful of the method their mother always followed, but making it stronger than the usual farmhouse beer. Reddish-black in hue, and foaming in the pail: if you drank a canful of this, you certainly felt your brain beginning to swim!

And now they are all seated at the table, beginning to enjoy the meat and the bread, and the foaming beer from the pail.

Aapo: Well, this is an ample repast we have before us, and no mistake!

Juhani: Eat and drink, boys, it’s Christmas! Christmas for us, and Christmas for all, people and animals too. Timo, my boy, pour a drop of beer on to poor old Valko’s heap of oats! That’s it, go on, make it a whole mugful! We mustn’t be stingy to-night: let everyone have some, the horse, the dog, and the cat, as well as the seven jolly brothers from Jukola!

An extract from the novel Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), by Aleksis Kivi

Translated by David Barrett


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