By Jenny Kalahar
Here’s a Christmas poem that needs a short introduction.
My parents are both from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a land of snow and skiing, pasties (dinner in a handheld crust), nisu (Finnish sweet bread made with cardamom), and potato sausage (a real treat!). It’s also where you’ll still find a sauna in many back yards. Often the family sauna is a separate small wooden building, but some are a part of the garage or an attachment to the back porch.
The sauna I remember from my mother’s parents’ home was one that my grandfather built as an addition to the garage. At first, we would step into the changing room. That tiny room was softly warm and humid, and there the aromas of what awaited us beyond the door were muted. We’d grab a towel and washcloth from the shelves and then open the door to the main room. Grandpa Matti had the fire in the iron stove roaring hot, and there would be a kettle of water heating up on top with a ladle inside. All around the stove were hand-sized flat stones from the shores of Lake Superior.
We started the sauna by dousing the hot rocks with ladles full of water, filling the room with steam. Mom would fill a wash basin with more of the hot water as we girls would sit on one of the tiered benches. For a while, we would just sit and breathe in the aromas of the wood smoke, the steam on the birch floors and benches, and the pungent soaps, before getting down to the business of scrubbing up and then rinsing. The combination of odors is a perfume my memory still calls “the smell of sauna,” even though I haven’t been inside one since I was a girl.
A sauna is exactly the place I think Santa would go to relax after another successful Christmas.
’Twas the night before Christmas, nearly dawn, don’t you know
Santa’d finished his rounds through the ice and the snow
His wet stockings were hung by the space heater with care
And his red suit and cap were slung over a chair
The elves were now nestled all snug in their bunks
His wife was still snoring though his boots fell with a clunk
Nick pulled off his shirt and slipped on his nightgowna
But, as he sat on the bed, he got an urge for a sauna
So down, down the dark, winding stairs he descended
Then out to the back yard to the sauna so splendid!
The cedar, the steam and the woodsmoke and such
Those scents blended like music; he loved them so much!
In the changing room, Santa slipped off his nightgown
Then, just wearing a towel, he stepped in and sat down
He poured water on stones that snugged close to the fire
Great puff-clouds of steam billowed and his towel retired
Santa’s sore muscles relaxed, he was warmed up completely
That homemade mint soap sudsed him up oh, so sweetly
He filled his wash-bucket one more time from the pot
Which sat on the cast-iron stove to keep hot
After rinsing the soap from himself and the benches
Nick stretched out to rest from a night in the trenches
Christmas trees everywhere’d been in golds, blues and reds
And the kids had been cute all tucked up in their beds
Most of the chimneys had been recently scrubbed
The soot from the rest came off in the sauna with rubs
The cookies and milk were delicious and sweet
And the thank-you notes set out beside them a treat!
He’d placed out a present for every good boy and girl
No little task to accomplish at each house in the world!
But, now that was finished; it was over and done
He relaxed in the sauna thinking about how he had gone
Over rooftops and fields, over rivers and oceans
How the reindeer had soared with such tireless devotion
He thought of his elves who’d worked hard the year long
How his wife was so cheerful and helpful and strong
A warmth spread through Santa that was not sauna-related
He loved them all so—it could not be debated
Then, feeling revived, he got up and left
And went to the little side room where he dressed
And all this good feeling, this love and affection
He took to his bed like a private collection
His head hit the pillow as the sun finally woke
Mrs. Claus got up too, kissed his cheek and then spoke
“It’s morning! It’s Christmas! You did it, my sweet!
I’m proud of you, Nick! I’ll feed the deer now—just sleep.”
And he heard her exclaim as she walked out to the sleigh
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day!”
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime: Another Tale of Used Books and Cats. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog, Bookselling and Writing with Weegee.
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