The eco-home spruces up for Christmas
Mia Tirkkonen shuns shiny plastic baubles
By Sanna Halla-Aho in Porvoo
"I bet you've never tasted anything quite like this", says 25-year-old Mia Tirkkonen, and she pours into a mug a steaming cup of coffee that smells of... gingerbread.
Tirkkonen has spiced the biodynamic coffee in her pot with cardamum, cloves, and cinnamon.
"The whole Christmas atmosphere is generated out of scents. The tree brought in from outside, the traditional Christmas dishes, logs burning on an open fire, the scent of sauna..." she goes on. "And of course the Christmas ornaments - they as it were tune the household in to the right wavelength."
Tirkkonen began the process of decorating her home at the beginning of December. To be completely accurate, some of the decorative items and ornaments are on display all year round, but at this time of year they are given a little extra seasonal tweak.
"Every Christmas some completely new ornaments get made. If I see something pretty somewhere, I immediately want to try the same thing out at home."
Some of the decorations are made at the after-school club of the Steiner School in Porvoo. MiaTirkkonen is responsible for running the club.
Nearly every nook and cranny in every room in her house in Porvoo reveals some decoration that Tirkkonen's hands have conjured up. At the front door is a decorative garland of twigs, decorated with dried berries. The same dried berries can also be seen inside the house, threaded onto hanging strands of cotton.yarn.
"Rose-hips and rowanberries get quite hard when they dry out, and threaded like this they can even be made into a lampshade", Tirkkonen explains.
Many of her decorating ideas have their origins in the natural surroundings.
"For instance blending the different materials, shapes and colours that you can find in the woods, I find that an inspiration."
On the upper and lower window-panes there are rows of spruce trees and Santa's little helpers, cut out of folded coloured paper. The straw garlands - in rings - on the central panes are decorated with sashes and crystal beads and ornaments.
Small mobiles made out of straw and pieces of felt twist in the currents of air in the room. Tirkkonen has hung up white angels made from paper, modelling clay, and felt.
Not so long ago, some attractively decorated sleeves cut off an old woollen sweater were re-used as leggings. Now they have been recyled a second time, moving on to serve as the covering for a glass jar full of tulips, and to disguise the plastic pot that houses that most typical of Finnish Yuletide plants, the red poinsettia.
Tirkkonen has Yuletide settings on the window sills, tables, and shelves. She also has her own "seasonal area", familiar from the Steiner kindergartens, reflecting the changing look of the natural world outside.
The Christmas version of this contains a collection of particularly attractive natural items, including pieces of wood shaped by long exposure to the sea, sprigs of rosemary, rose petals, and semi-precious stones found in nature.
"Natural materials are beautiful in and of themselves. You don't necessarily have to do anything with them, and collecting them is fun. At the Steiner club, I often start handcraft sessions with a short outing into the woods, in order to see what we can find first from the natural surroundings."
Mia Tirkkonen also believes in collecting her Christmas tree herself from the forest.
"The idea of going out and buying a [ready-cut] tree is quite alien to me. Instead I get permission from a local landowner and chop down a suitable spruce myself. You cannot beat the scent of a real spruce, freshly cut. Who cares about the needles on the floor; that sort of mess is part and parcel of the Christmas experience", she says with a laugh.
To put under the tree, Tirkkonen has found a fine hand-decorated mat from a flea-market. The tree will be crowned as always with an old straw star, which she has brought from her childhood home.
It would be lovely to put real candles on the branches, but the 18th century wooden house in which Tirkkonen makes her home is located in Porvoo's old wooden quarter, and the risks outweigh the temptation.
Tirkkonen likes to keep the tree decoration down to a spare minimum, so gingerbread cookies and white angels suffice. She has no time whatsoever for artificial shiny baubles.
"I think traditional things, to me they have the real spirit of Christmas. Plastic is like industrial slag - it never degrades back into the natural fold."
With good reason, Tirkkonen could be labelled an eco-fan. "I try to live wisely, taking account of other people and the environment", she says.
"I've been going on about these things ever since my childhood. Now I mainly try to influence people by my own example, leaving a small footprint and living a gentle life."
Her home in the old quarter of Porvoo is an ideal match for Tirkkonen's style of living. The apartment of three rooms, kitchen, and bathroom in the upstairs floor of a house from the 18th century is rather like its occupant.
"The house was bought by a family we know, and the first idea was to use the upstairs apartment as a storage space."
Tirkkonen nevertheless suggested otherwise and decided to renovate the place as a home. Walls were stripped out, along with the linoleum coverings on the floors, revealing the original wooden beams.
"It's so easy to breathe in here. A log-framed house has its own internal ventilation system, when there is nothing blocking the walls. And it doesn't bother me a bit that you occasionally get bits of stuff falling from the bare surfaces."
In her present-giving, Tirkkonen adheres to the same principles as elsewhere in life.
"I make things myself or then I buy from local handcrafts artisans. If I buy something new, I want to know where and how it was made. I make a point of buying biodynamic and organic foods, simply because of their better quality."
In the end, however, the most important thing about Christmas for Mia Tirkkonen is that it should be a time for rest and recharging the mind's batteries.
There is absolutely no sense in getting all stressed out, even over an eco-Christmas.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 15.12.2006