The Moomins aren’t a naturally Christmassy species. They prefer to spend their winters tucked behind an old boiler, or huddled together in their drawing room. You wouldn’t have thought the irascible Hemulens would have much truck with the celebration either, other than to give them something else to get cross about.
But in The Fir Tree one of the Hemulens comes crashing through the roof the the Moomins’ house like an angry Santa, demanding the family get up and get stressed out about Christmas too.
I’m talking about Christmas, don’t you know, Christmas. And I’ve made absolutely no arrangements yet myself and here they send me off to dig you out. Everybody’s running about like mad and nothing’s ready…
The Moomins, ignorant of the ways of December assume this ‘Christmas’ is some terrible god that needs appeasing with presents, eggnog and baubles. So father and son go off to poach someone else’s fir (because Moominpappa was particular about his own), Moominmamma furiously cooks up a Christmas storm and the Snork Maiden hunts for presents.
As Christmas approaches the Moomins retreat under an upturned table. But the only visitors are the poor woody creatures who have always longed to see a real Christmas tree. As the stars light up the fir, all concerned finally make peace with this Christmas thing and realise that there is more to it than trees and presents. ‘At least I’m not afraid of Christmas any more,’ Moomintroll said. ‘I believe the Hemulen and his aunt and Gaffsie must have misunderstood the whole thing.’
Tove also wrote about Christmas in her 1968 memoirs. She remembers how the Christmas tree cast a similar spell.
The smaller you are the bigger Christmas is. Underneath the Christmas tree Christmas is vast, it is a green jungle with red apples and sad, 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; Christmas is a time when you feel absolutely safe, thanks to the Christmas tree. There outside is the studio which is very big and very cold. The only warm place is close to the stove.
And more than a decade before the Moomins first appeared in print Tove made this painting, now in the Moominvalley exhibition at Tampere Art Museum. As the website Virka points out it features some distinctly Moomin-like creatures living on an enormous block of ice. Interesting that the cold averse Moomins actually started out as ice trolls.