Christmas from Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson

‘The smaller you are, the bigger Christmas is.’

Tove Jansson’s present tense recollections of her childhood Christmases, first collected in her memoir Sculptor’s Daughter, contain the same combination of pragmatism and fantasy that runs through the Moomin stories. But where her trolls feared the coming of the spruce in her story The Fir Tree, young Tove practically worships its appearance in her father’s big, cold studio.

‘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.’

From the Fir Tree, published in Tales from Moominvalley

Although she grew up in a Bohemian household, everything about the Jansson family Christmas is planned and executed with almost military precision.

Winter landscape (date unknown) by Tove Jansson

‘On the morning, Daddy and I get up at six o’clock because Christmas trees must be bought in the dark. We walk to the other end of town as the big harbour is just the right setting for buying a Christmas tree. We spend hours choosing, looking at every branch suspiciously. It’s always cold. Once Daddy got the top of a tree in his eye. The early morning darkness is full of freezing bundles hunting for trees and the snow is scattered with fir twigs. There is a menacing enchantment about the harbour and the market.’

Ice valley (1932) by Tove Jansson

The next paragraph is straight out of Moominvalley. How inextricably linked the artist is with her creation.

‘One can make oneself unget-at-able deep in the Christmas tree. Under the tree one must feel full of love, particularly when the glass balls have been hung. They are store-places for love and that’s why it’s so terribly dangerous to drop them.’

From the Fir Tree, published in Tales from Moominvalley

But it is the emotional aspect of the season that is most important, and Tove’s total immersion in that feeling.

‘I was triumphantly certain that Christmas belonged to me. I crept into the green primaeval forest and pulled out parcels. Now the feeling of love under the branches of the tree was almost unbearable, a compact feeling of holiness made up of Marys and angels and mothers and Lucias and statues, all of them blessing me and forgiving everything on earth during the past year, as long as they could be sure that everybody loved one another.’

Cover art for The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

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