Posts Tagged ‘Father Christmas’

  • Far more than walking on a winter wonderland

    Going on a husky sleigh-ride in Santa's village.JPGEnjoying toboganning rides on slope.JPG

    Moving around on a tobogann.JPGGoing for a reindeer-sleigh ride.JPG

    We had always wished to spend Christmas in some foreign land in order to see how this event is celebrated in other countries. Ideally this place had to be similar to the ones that we saw on Christmas cards; that is with wooden log cabins, fire-places and much much snow.

    Eventually, a brilliant idea came to our mind! What if we went to visit Santa’s land itself in Lapland, Northern Finland?

    Although many of us have grown up to believe that Father Christmas is just a legend, my daughter and I are sure that he is real. Well, he comes to visit us each year and he always leaves a lovely present for Martina. So surely, after ten annual visits to our home, we decided that it would be nice of us to exchange the courteousy.

    That was how we found ourselves at Gatwick airport being led away from the usual crowded queues by a special officer who rang a bell in order to call for those whose destination was Ivalo airport.

    Soon, several families with excited children joined the group and off we went on a charter airplane which was waiting to take us to this magical land. Everything was superb from the start, even this flight which was completely dedicated to entertain the children with enjoyable games. Then, when we were approaching land, all the children turned to the airplane’s window in order to watch for Santa’s flying sleigh. We did not succeed to see it but deep beneath the fluffy white clouds, there appeared a strange landscape of dark land, remarkably patterned with plentiful shiny rivers and lakes. So that was how the Arctic Circle looked!

    Our airplane landed smoothly down at Ivalo’s minute airport in Lapland, North Finland and soon we found ourselves walking in the crunchy snow. Mischievous, brightly dressed elves slid out together with our luggage and greeted us with playful tricks, whilst a traditionally dressed Finnish Sami, who forms part of the indigenous people of this area, welcomed us to his land in the company of a large reindeer. A coach transferred us to the tourist resort in Saariselkä which was only 25 minutes away.

    Since in Saariselkä, the temperature goes down well beyond zero degrees, we had to pack a couple of cosy clothes in our luggage. However, on arrival, everyone was provided with a complimentary thermal outer-suit, along with woolen socks, snow boots, outer gloves and hats, in order to guarantee a comfortable stay since there the temperature could go down to -30 degrees celcius.

    There is a good choice of hotels wherein to spend this holiday: starting from Santa’s Kieppi which is built in the traditional Finnish style, and moving on to the modern style Santa’s Holiday Club which includes an indoor pool with waves and chutes. We chose to stay in Hotel Kieppi because we considered it to be more authentic. Its owner, Matti Välitalo, informed us that in Finnish, the word ‘kieppi’ referred to the burrow where animals hibernated during winter, and surely this place was warm and snug contrasting to the icy coldness outside.

    Between the beginning of December and the first days of January, Saariselkä experiences the polar night as the sun does not rise. However the place does not lie in total darkness since the light of the moon, the stars, and the magnificent Northern Lights are reflected by the snow, and therefore one can move around easily at whatever time. During this period, at about ten in the morning, the dusky blue sky turns into an unusual blend of silver and blue colours which is later imbued with different hues of blue and red, until at about three in the afternoon, when it starts getting dark again. This entire ambience felt strange at first but once we got used to it, it enhanced each and every moment and turned it into a unique Christmas experience. We really felt as if we had stepped into another world.

    Even the activities that we could do were extraordinary and it didn’t take very long to see the adults being transformed into joyful and happy children. It’s bound to be! For how can one resist the feeling of a true white Christmas whilst squishing or toboganning in the milky Arctic snow? We were provided with free toboganns from our hotel and Martina took the opportunity to be pulled all along the way. I have to admit that it was somewhat frightening at first because we had never experienced this sport. But when we saw very young children shooting down confidently, we walked up the small snowy hill and off we went. Oh my! It felt like flying! An amazing experience! Anyhow, we lost count how much rides we did.

    Each time we travelled by coach, our guides made their utmost in order to help us feel the Christmas spirit. Once more, we found the atmosphere quite captivating as we sang heartily a couple of old Christmas songs along with people coming from various countries around the world, under a sky packed with twinkling stars.

    However surely, the best moment of this holiday for each visitor, whether adult or young was the special visit to the village of Father Christmas in the Arctic Circle. Here, with activities ranging from ice fishing, toboganning, reindeer sleigh rides, snow hockey, skidoo rides, and an igloo bar, who can wish for more? Yet there was more! In fact, after providing us with the required instructions, we were offered to drive a pack of huskies in the snow. My husband controlled the huskies and my daughter and I huddled up in the sleigh wrapped up in reindeer skin. What a delight!

    Still, more followed since each family, at some point or another, was secretly and quickly hurried upon a snowmobile-sled in order to search for the elves who knew how to point the way to Santa’s log cabin which was craftily hidden in the icy woods. It was a really enthralling experience to enter into the warmth of Santa’s magical hut and to find him sitting in his huge wooden chair amid a multitude of colourful presents. Martina was dumbfounded as she noticed that Santa was holding and reading her own hand-written letter which she had sent him some days ago by post from Valletta! When she found some courage, she told him that many of her friends told her that he did not exist.

    “Well now you have seen that I do!” he told her warmly as he laughed heartily and gave her a beautiful teddy bear. Martina hugged Santa as if to check that she was not dreaming and she even kissed him on the cheek. Once our private meeting with Santa was over, we were taken back to the rest of the group but Martina was simply entranced by this experience.

    On Christmas day, we attended a gala dinner where we discovered that in Finland, ham is the Christmas food specialty. However we were treated to a bountiful meal of different meats and fish, together with a selection of pastries and delicious wild berries.

    We surely missed the company of our dear family members and the sweet presence of baby Jesus in his crib which was nowhere in sight in these locations. Yet in Saariselkä everything was designed to entertain visitors and one will absolutely not have time to feel a trace of sadness.

    We spent only four days in Santa’s Lapland but the surrealism of the place mystified the aspect of time and we felt as if we belonged there. Surely no other Christmas will ever match this one.

    (This article was published in the Travel Supplement of The Sunday Times of Malta dated 2nd November 2014)

    2014.11.02 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • Meta toħlom akbar

    Il-Bibbja tirrakkonta l-istagħġib tar-rgħajja meta waqt lejl tas-skiet, is-sema ddawwlet b’dawl mhux tas-soltu filwaqt li anġlu ħabbrilhom li kien twieled ir-Re li Alla kien wiegħed li ser jibgħat. Wieħed jista’ jimmaġina l-emozzjoni tagħhom hekk kif dawn ġrew lejn il-post indikat u hemm sabu lil Marija u lil Ġużeppi jbennu lil binhom Ġesù li kien għadu kif bexxaq għajnejh u lemaħ lid-dinja tagħna.

    Minn dak iż-żmien ‘l hawn kienu bosta l-popli li ttantaw joħolqu mill-ġdid din l-atmosfera mbierka u unika fil-ġranet ħelwin tal-Milied. Probabbilment il-bozoz tad-dawl żgħar u kkuluriti li nżejjnu diversi postijiet bihom, għandhom il-għan li jikkreaw mill-ġdid l-atmosfera tad-dwal li deheru fis-smewwiet f’dak il-lejl imqaddes, filwaqt li l-istatwa tal-bambin Ġesù tintuża bħala rappreżentazzjoni tat-tarbija divina.

    F’dawn il-ġranet naraw ukoll il-ħeġġa ta’ bosta individwi li jagħmlu minn kollox biex iqanqlu dik is-sensazzjoni antika ta’ stagħġib u ferħ li l-Milied biss kapaċi jġib miegħu. Ħafna minna, biex inferrħu lil xulxin, insibu ruħna niċċelebraw ir-ritwali li mxew minn ġenerazzjoni għall-oħra. Imma mbagħad issib ukoll lil min jaspira aktar minn hekk, issib lil dawk li jazzardaw joħolmu akbar, lil dawk li joħorġu l-barra mit-tradizzjoni sabiex b’azzjoni mhux tas-soltu, jerġgħu jqajjmu dik ix-xrara ta’ stagħġib u ferħ li mhux la kemm wieħed jinsa.

    George VellaWieħed minn dawn huwa bla dubju l-Kavallier George Vella, Żejtuni ta’ 80 sena li llum joqgħod Birkirkara, u li dil-ġimgħa stedinni għandu sabiex jirrakkuntali dwar tliet attivitajiet partikolari li hu flimkien ma’ sħabu ħarġu bihom fi żmien il-Milied tas-snin sittin. Qabel inġbarna fl-istudju tiegħu ħalli ngħarrxu fost il-ġabra ta’ dokumenti, kotba, ġurnali u ritratti li hu pprepara għalija, George ma naqasx milli jdawwarni dawra mad-dar tiegħu sabiex jurini biċ-ċar ir-rabta tiegħu ma’ din il-festa, espressa fosthom permezz tal-kwantità ta’ presepji differenti li għandu, bil-bambin li xtara minn Betlehem lura fl-1956 u bis-siġra tal-Milied li huwa stess żejjen b’għadd ta’ ornamenti, bozoz ikkuluriti, u mużika ħelwa.

    L-ewwel tifkira ħaditna lura għall-1960 ġewwa l-bini tal-Juventutis Domus Sagra Familia fiż-Żejtun, fejn f’dak iż-żmien, George Vella kien is-segretarju tal-għaqda li kienet tmexxi l-attivitajiet tal-post. Ta’ min isemmi li oriġinarjament din il-binja li tinsab fi Triq San Girgor, kienet il-palazz ta’ l-Isqof Ferdinand Mattei li kien jużaha bħala residenza għas-sajf u anki biex minnha jkun jista’ jsegwi l-pellegrinaġġ annwali ta’ San Girgor li kien jgħaddi proprju minn din it-triq (kif għadu jiġri sa llum). Kien fl-1911 meta Dun Spiridione Grixti u Angelo Baldacchino staqsew lill-Arċipriet taż-Żejtun, Dun Lawrenz Degabriele, sabiex jingħataw il-permess ħalli jiftħu ċentru ta’ tagħlim fejn it-tfal iż-żgħar setgħu jitgħallmu d-duttrina u fl-istess ħin fejn iż-żagħżagħ setgħu jinġabru u jinżammu l-bogħod mill-perikli tal-ħajja, skont it-tagħlim ta’ San Ġwann Bosco.

    Għall-ewwel inkriet dar ċkejkna fi Triq San Girgor u d-Domus infetaħ uffiċċjalment fl-24 ta’ Frar 1912. Iżda aktar tard, fit-13 ta’ Diċembru tal-1920, ġie ffirmat il-kuntratt tal-akkwist ta’ dan il-palazz u d-Domus ġie trasferit għal dan il-post. Intant, madwar 40 sena wara, fl-eqqel tal-ġlieda politiko-reliġjuża, il-parteċipazzjoni fid-Domus min-naħa tat-tfal u ż-żagħżagħ bdiet tonqos ħafna u biex jerġgħu jiġbdu lura l-interess tagħhom, George Vella flimkien ma’ xi membri oħra, fosthom Generoso Vella u Joseph Turban, iddeċidew li minflok jagħtu r-rigali tal-Milied lit-tfal tal-membri, lill-abbatini, u lil dawk li kienu jattendu d-Domus minn ġewwa ċ-Ċentru bħas-soltu, huma kienu se jibgħatu lil Father Christmas idur madwar ir-raħal sabiex iqassam ir-rigali fid-djar tat-tfal stess, akkumpanjat mid-daqq tal-banda taż-Żejtun Boy Scouts.

    P1120394L-ewwel wieħed li messietu x-xorti li jilbes ta’ Father Christmas kien Joseph Mansueto li fl-1960 ħareġ fuq karru miġbud minn tractor armat b’żewġt iċriev kbar li kienu qed jiġbdu warajhom żlitta kbira ħamra mimlija bir-rigali u mdawwra bi qniepen elettriċi. Din l-idea mal-ewwel intlaqgħat tajjeb kemm mit-tfal u kif ukoll mill-membri tad-Domus u wkoll mill-ġenituri tat-tfal. Infatti minn dik is-sena ‘l hemm, il-membri tad-Domus u t-tfal kienu jibdew jaħdmu fuq dan il-karru minn xi xahar qabel, peress li kull sena l-forma tiegħu kienet tinbidel. Fost il-forom użati nsibu sputnik, rocket spazjali, ferrovija, żlitta miġbuda miċ-ċriev, żwiemel ħajjin eċċ.

    Maż-żmien tant ħadet din id-drawwa, li biex tkun tista’ tilqa’ t-talba biex jitqassmu r-rigali kollha fl-istess ħin kellhom joħorġu tnejn min-nies lebsin ta’ Father Christmas. Huwa interessanti li wieħed ikun jaf li meta wieħed kien jintagħżel biex jilbes ta’ Father Christmas għal waqt din l-attività, dan kien jitqies bħala unur kbir peress li l-individwu magħżul kien ikun dak li ta l-akbar kontribut lid-Domus matul dik is-sena. Ftit ftit il-kelma ġriet u d-Domus taż-Żejtun beda jirċievi talbiet anki minn inħawi oħra f’Malta sabiex il-Father Christmas bil-karru tiegħu flimkien mal-banda tal-Boy Scouts imorru jferrħu u jqassmu r-rigali anki lit-tfal t’hemmhekk. Naturalment, ma damux ma nibtu attivitajiet bħal dawn mal-inħawi kollha tal-gżejjer tagħna, tant li din id-drawwa għadha għaddejjha fostna sa llum.

    P1120380It-tieni ġrajja li rrakkuntali George Vella seħħet fit-23 ta’ Diċembru 1963 meta wara talba li saret mid-Domus, id-dipartiment tar-relazzjonijiet pubblici tal-Hafmed NATO kienu rregalaw lill-poplu Żejtuni siġra kbira tal-Milied twila madwar 30 pied li nġiebet apposta min-Norvegja u tpoġġiet fi Pjazza Diċembru 13 (qabel Pjazza Brittanika). Dakinhar saru festi kbar hekk kif madwar is-siġra mixgħula, inġabru għadd ta’ Żwieten u anki uffiċċjali għoljin tan-NATO flimkien mal-familji tagħhom. Wara li tkantaw xi għanjiet tal-Milied, intfiet il-pjazza kollha fid-dlam u f’ħin minnhom, Tony Mifsud, li għal dik is-sena kien intagħżel biex jilbes ta’ Father Christmas, għamel daħla trijonfali liema bħalha, hekk kif wasal fuq żiemel abjad biex iqassam ir-rigali lit-tfal minn taħt din is-siġra kbira. Ċertament dan ukoll kien avveniment kbir għaż-Żejtun u dwaru kienu tkellmu l-gazzetti kollha ta’ Malta u kif ukoll il-mezzi tax-xandir.

    Iżda l-kbir kien għadu ġej għax it-tielet ġrajja li kellu lest għalija George kienet waħda tassew fantastika u stagħġibt mhux ftit kif jiena, bħala Żejtunija, qatt ma kont smajt biha qabel. Kollox beda waqt logħba table tennis, hekk kif Ltn. Commander Cliff Perry, R.N., b’ammirazzjoni lejn ix-xogħol li kienu qed jagħmlu dawn il-membri tad-Domus biex joħorġu b’ideat ġodda, huwa offra ruħu biex jagħti sorpriża kbira lit-tfal taż-Żejtun. Din kienet tikkonsisti fl-opportunità li għal dik is-sena, il-Father Christmas tad-Domus seta’ jitwassal minnu permezz ta’ ħelikopter tar-Royal Navy. Naturalment, okkażżjoni unika bħal dik ma kienux ser jitilfuha u George flimkien ma’ sħabu, intefgħu jippjanaw din l-attività l-ġdida.

    P1120383Ħafna mill-anzjani Żwieten jiftakru lil dan il-ħelikopter itir fuq iż-Żejtun fil-ġranet ta’ qabel il-Milied tal-1964, fosthom Carmelo P Baldacchino, li għaddieli xi ritratti li ħa ħu Ġeorge stess, Johnny Vella, dakinhar li seħħet din l-avventura. B’għaġeb kbir tat-tfal tal-iskola l-ġdida primarja taż-Żejtun (magħrufa bħala Carlo Diacono) f’ħin minnhom jidher ħelikopter b’maskra kbira ta’ Father Christmas fuq il-buq tiegħu u mżejjen b’dawl ikkulurit, u wara li ttajjar ftit fuq l-iskola, huwa deher nieżel fil-bitħa mdaqqsa tagħha u minnu ħareġ il-Father Christmas biex iqassmilhom ir-rigali li kellu jistennewh fi żlitta fil-qrib.

    George jiftakar ċar li t-tfal tbellħu meta raw dan kollu jiġri quddiemhom u tgħidx xi fratterija qamet, kulħadd jiġri ‘l hemm u ‘l hawn biex jara x’qed jiġri u biex jaċċerta ruħu li kien ser jaqla’ rigal. Wara dan kollu, il-Father Christmas ta’ dik is-sena, Anthony Sinagra, rikeb ġewwa ż-żlitta tiegħu u erħielha jqassam ir-rigali madwar iż-Żejtun kollu. Sadanittant il-ħelikopter reġa’ ntrefa’ fis-smewwiet u minnu nxteħtu għadd ta’ bżieżaq fuq l-inħawi tal-iskola. Ftit wara, il-ħelikopter deher jieqaf mill-ġdid fl-ajru fuq l-istitut tas-Sorijiet ta’ Ġesù Nazzarenu fiż-Żejtun u hemm niżlet xita ta’ ħelu għat-tfal li kienu residenti f’dan il-post.

    George kien emozzjonat ħafna b’dawn il-memorji iżda meta rani daqstant interessata, ma damx ma beda jirrakkuntali dwar għadd ta’ ġrajjiet oħra hekk kif minn armarji, kxaxen u kaxxi, huwa beda joħroġ diversi tifkiriet ħalli jispjegali aħjar dwar dak li kien qiegħed ifehemni. Fosthom skoprejt li matul ħajtu huwa żar diversi postijiet madwar id-dinja minħabba x-xogħol tiegħu fejn anki hemm ma naqasx l-element tal-avventura. Kien ukoll kittieb u riċerkatur fejn fosthom huwa kien ġabar u ppubblika t-tagħrif tal-Pronostiku Malti għal 25 sena sħaħ.

    Ċertament laqgħat ma’ individwi bħal dawn juru biċ-ċar kemm niesna huma riżors importanti ta’ esperjenzi u informazzjoni li jistgħu jitfgħu dawl fuq is-soċjetà, il-kultura u l-istorja tagħna. Nistgħu ngħidu li bosta mid-djar tagħna jistgħu jiġu kkunsidrati bħala arkivji fihom infushom mibnija personalment b’dedikazzjoni kbira minn nies differenti, skont l-oqsma varji ta’ l-interessi tagħhom. Personalment nemmen li flimkien mal-istorja ġenerali, dawn il-ġabriet tat-tifkiriet imxerrda fost diversi familji, kapaċi jippreżentaw sfumaturi sinifikanti sabiex wieħed ikun jista’ jara stampa akbar ta’ ġrajjiet pajjiżna.

    (Dan l-artiklu ġie ppubblikat fis-sensiela ĠABRIET IT-TIFKIRIET (it-8 Parti) tat-Torċa datata 22 ta’ Diċembru 2013)

    2013.12.22 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles