The chances are that if you haven’t heard of Christmas, then you have been living under the proverbial rock, without deliveries of junk mail or without access to a streaming platform or no nearby mall or singing angels in the sky announcing the saviour’s birth (you know, it happens ALL the time) …
OR … you are the Moomin family, creations of the much-loved Tove Jansson, who spend the entire northern winter months hibernating in their gorgeously snug home, asleep while the rest of the world are decorating their trees, buying and wrapping presents and assembling more food than one group of people can reasonably be expected to eat in a lifetime. (Although one lunch is entirely reasonable and should definitely be why you do it.)
In Christmas Comes to MoominValley, a book based on the many delightful stories written by Jansson who created in the Moomins, beautiful, caring, capable, inclusive and often innocent characters who make us see our world in a wholly different light.
First published in Swedish in Finland, the tales of the Moomin family, centred often on the boy of the family Moomintroll, were a wonderful exploration of what it means to be loved and included (they had a group of eclectic friends and family in their orbit) and to go on adventures, knowing you the warm of home to return to.
In this story, written by Alex Haridi & Cecilia Davidsson and illustrated by Filippa Widlund, The Moomins are well and truly at home, sleeping away the length and breath of winter in their cosy beds, oblivious to the fact that the world outside is rushing outside preparing for Christmas.
In fact, they don’t even know, as previously noted, that Christmas exists at all.
So when a Hemulen, described as “loud, bossy, abrasive and insensitive, but well-intentioned [with] other redeeming qualities” characters, comes a-calling – well, really breaking and entering, demanding that the Moomins get as frantic as it is about the impending arrival of Christmas (martyr complex much?) and DO something.
Quite what it doesn’t make clear, yelling at the sleeping Moomins:
“Christmas is coming and here you are asleep! This won’t do at all!”
Poor Moomintroll who is the first to feel the Hemulen’s misguided wrath isn’t sure what he is talking about, thinking it’s spring already.
After berating Moomintroll about the fact that his family is sleeping while the Hemulen is frantically wrapped in festive prep – completely ignoring the fact that he has chosen to get this amped up and that it is no one’s fault but his own – he departs, rather unhelpfully not clueing in Moomintroll or the rest of the family on what they should actually do to get ready for Christmas.
Thus begins a delightfully befuddled attempts by the Moomin family – Moomintroll, his parents Moominmamma and Mooinpappa and Snork Maiden, all of whom, in the absence of any hard, credible guide to what they should do for this Christmas thing of which they have no knowledge, assume the worst.
Or at least Moomintroll, the only one who actually spoke to the Hemulen, does saying:
“Now don’t be alarmed, but something dreadful is coming.”
So, with Moominpappa in the lead they venture outside into a world covered in snow which, surprise, surprise, they also haven’t seen before.
Well, Moominpappa hasn’t but Moomintroll has, and sets his father right, although he is far less certain about the fir tree that someone passing by is carrying which they are told they must get quickly and decorate.
They initially assume the tree is for hiding in from the coming assumed Christmas apocalypse but that’s going to be hard to do since the trees are so thin (although Moominpappa tells them encouragingly that “We can always squeeze together if need be.”).
Their friends such as Mrs Fillyjonk don’t really do much to clue them in, leading to all kinds of fun as they haphazardly decorate the tree, cook mountains of food (which they selflessly give away to a needy and cold group of little woodies, toffles and creeps) and assemble presents, all of snatched pieces of conversations absent of all useful context.
It is a joy watching the Moomins go all out with such bemused and selfless energy to celebrate a festival of which they know nought, but even more satisfying is seeing how much they rather characteristically enrich the lives of others, the joy on these creatures faces so palpable and heartwarming that Moomintroll is led to declare “I’m not afraid of Christmas any more”, adding “The Hemulen and Mrs Fillyjonk and everyone else must have misunderstood.”
As stories of outsiders discovering something that everyone else in in on go, it’s a very funny but heartwarming piece of storytelling that gloriously explores what something that we take for granted must look to someone else.
But also how odd it is that we often run about in a frantic state getting ready to celebrate something that should be a real and abiding pleasure, but comes across as some sort of tinsel-accented threat.
No wonder the Moomins get the wrong idea!
Writing in the forward to Christmas Comes to Moominvalley, Tove Jansson’s niece, Sophia, who is the Creative Director of Moomin Characters, talks about what she hopes readers, like yours truly who spent many, many happy hours snug and safe reading about the Moomins when I was a child, will get from stories such as this one.
“As a child I used to love listening to stories read aloud by grown-ups. What a wonderful feeling it was to sit curled up in the crook of someone’s arm, listening to the story, looking at the pictures, and seeing new pictures drawn in my mind. It was my favourite part of the day, and it made me the book lover that I still am. I hope these books will inspire the same feeling in you – we’re off on an adventure to the magical world of Moominvalley, where absolutely anything can happen!”
The loveliest part of Christmas Comes to Moominvalley is that it fulfills these wishes perfectly, offering us another visit to the sweet and wonderful world of the Moomins where Christmas is an odd festival made of trees and presents and food to which the only reasonable response surely is to go and sleep some more.
In fact, a nap seems like a great idea – see you in autumn or spring.