Childless aunts especially spoiled the big family with treasures in Christmas, say The Hannukselas about their Christmas in the past when their children were still young and at home. ”We have fourteen children, and we are happy.” says Eira. ”Every child is received with joy, says her husband Matti. The Conservative Laestadians do not allow any birth control because they believe that it is wrong to prevent the God to create new human beings to be born and live on the earth. Any sort of birth control is taught to be a sin. However, ”we don’t have any rules”, says their daughter Sanna, mother for 14 children.
The Hannukselas have 105 precious grandchildren
While there were only 60, each child got an individual Christmas present
Is Christmas stress getting to you? Is there too much work with the gifts and cooking?
Let’s see how a really big family can manage.Eira and Markku Hannuksela are super grandparents , who criss-cross Finland during Christmas time. Today they are in Murro in Kempele, near Oulu with their daughter Sanna Marjanen.
The Hannukselas have 14 children, 105 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren. In this house alone there are nine grandchildren. Grandmother is making Christmas gingerbread with the grandchildren.
One of the younger ones places the cutter down on the dough, but Grandma slides it quietly to one side: ”You never start in the middle, dear, but at the edges. That way you make the best use of all the dough”, she says gently.
One has to be precise with these things, but there is no sense in going overboard – at the other end of the table one of the small kids is scrunching ready-made biscuits into crumbs with a rolling pin that looks suspiciously as though it has flakes of plasticine on it.
When you ask the Hannukselas how many children they have, the answer that comes back is longer than a Thought for the Day: Päivi, Hely, Perttu, Tarmo, Juha, Sauli, Timo, Esa, Eero, Sampo, Sanna, Janne, Samuli, and Jaakko.
The oldest of their children is 50 years old, and the youngest is 27.
Eira was already a grandmother when her youngest was born. Three of her children have 11 children, and there are more on the way.
The Hannukselas do remember the names of their grandchildren, but Grandmother is a bit hazy on the exact dates of birth of all of them, but she has the season of their birth in mind.
– Every child is received with joy, says 73-year-old Matti.
– It is such a treasure trove – the whole family, says 71-year-old Eira.
The Hannukselas are Laestadians: they feel that all children who are born are welcome. When Matti and Eira celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, they rented a campground.
The family no longer celebrates Christmas together: separate events are held in for the family members living in the north and south of the country. The grandparents live in Kokemäki and spend Christmas in turn with the families of their respective children.
One might think that there is no point in even wishing for gifts. Not so. Presents are important.
For a long time the grandparents remembered each grandchild with a gift of their own. When there started to be 50 or 60 of them they hit something of a wall.
– Nobody’s resources can sufficie for that. Now children are remembered through their individual families.
The pockets of the Advent calendar in the corner of the living room has something small for each child for every day. During Christmas the sauna gnome leaves something for everyone on the bench of the sauna.
– If the children are disobedient, they only get raisins, jokes Sanna, 36.
When she was a child, the gifts were given during the ”little Christmas” celebrations.
– We have invested in Christmas, even though at times we had to stretch our money, Matti says. His career was in the Defence Forces. Eira worked in the Army kitchen, but for a long time she was at home with the children.
– Mother collected gifts throughout the year. The most expensive games, such as Corona and hockey board games, were always bought after Christmas, Matti said.
– In the toy world plenty of new things would always come. I could not bring myself to buy them. After Christmas they would be on sale, Grandmother Eira says.
Eira knits socks and mittens. Even now, she is working on black leg-warmers for her daughter.
– We have everything that other people have. And it is good for the children to learn that you can’t have everything, says daughter Sanna.
There must have been well over 100 packages under the tree.
Childless aunts especially spoiled the family with treasures.
Packages wrapped by the youngest children might contain an old toy or a used notebook.
– Once Matti gave me a package of coffee, Eira laughs to her husband.
Sanna’s family spends between EUR 1,500-2,000 on Christmas gifts and food.
Christmas cleaning is not only the mother’s job in the Hannuksela family. In the big family the boys cleaned and cooked, especially during Christmas. Once Eira went to town at Christmas time while the baked goods were being made. The boys finished the tarts and the bread.
But Eira always had to preach to the kids about putting the dirty clothing in the wash and cleaning their rooms. At first the boys were taught to make their beds and to pile their clothes in military style.
– But when the eighth boy came, it no longer worked.
The children make sure that the others pull their weight. Once the boys hid the vacuum cleaner in the garage. When it was found, there was a sign attached to it: ”I am on summer holiday”.
If there was no work to be found, Father would find them something to keep everyone busy.
– I would not let the children go out very easily. I brought them up to be in their own family, to understand that the home is the place where joys and sorrows are shared, Matti says.
– We visited friends a lot and many young people came to us, Sanna says. Not all of the friends were Laestadians.
There had to be fun things to do at home as well. At one time a couple of reindeer were grazing in the yard. They bought a larger property when one of the boys asked his father what he should do with his hands.
Did the children ever rebel?
– Of course. They’re supposed to do that. It’s part of a healthy life, Eira says.
The door flies open and two flaxen-haired children come from school. Grandmother and Grandfather remember how their boys would stop at a store on their way home from school and bring a box of milk on the back of the bicycle. Mother would make rice porridge on Christmas Eve – an eight-litre kettle.
Eira would always prepare the Christmas food herself – even the pickled herring and the Baltic herring, and the butter dough for the prune tarts.
– I have wondered how so many mothers today are so worn out, and so tired. I never was, she says.
She feels that it is all about attitude.
– I have been able to accept the children with joy, and I have had my health.
Daughter Sanna, the mother of a large family herself, thinks differently.
– I don’t want to project the impression that I would never be tired. I do get tired. And I would like to do something else at times, although the family is number one for me as well, Sanna says.
– It is good that you are honest with yourself, her father says.
– I feel strongly that a family is a joint venture. But at times there are worse days, and things do not feel so good. Grandmother has just been so industrious, Sanna says of her mother.
The daughter cares for her family and prepares for Christmas in her own way.
– Christmas cleaning is important, but I don’t scrub the chair legs like mother did. It is more important for me that things just look nice.
Sanna put up the first Christmas decorations in mid-November. Perhaps some day she will open an interior decorating shop. A Laestadian designer? Why not?
”We don’t have any rules”
There has been much discussion on the Internet this autumn about Laestadianism and about whether or not a religious movement should have lifestyle rules. Sanna feels that unsubstantiated information has been spread about the Laestadians.
– We don’t have rules, Sanna says. One must listen to the sound of one’s conscience, say Eira and Matti.
– There are plenty of narrow-minded people for whom everything is wrong. It is difficult if people are squeezed into a tight pattern, Eira says.
Eira knows Laestadians who have been ridiculed at work. However, Matti feels that the prejudices have waned.
– It was more difficult in the 1960s and 1970s. The people have become more knowledgeable, he says.
But this house doesn’t have a television. Sanna notes that not all other people have a TV either.
– Watching TV is not a sin. And we have computers with which you can watch anything you want. What you watch is most important.
Have the kids ever asked for a TV?
– Never, the parents answer in unison.
– I teach the children that it is good to be a strong personality, Sanna says.
One of Sanna’s daughters asks her mother to look at something on an Internet auction site. Sanna has found old furniture and fashionable retro clothing from the site. Clothing has always been recycled in large families – before there ever were any flea markets.
The Laestadians do not drink alcohol. The Hannuksela siblings are interested in healthy life, massage courses, and natural foods.
– It is wonderful do see our children do well. Many of the kids are successful in business, Eira says.
The Laestadians are considered to be industrious, and economic success is not frowned upon. Is a good position important?
– No. What is most important is that they succeed and have work, Eira says.
– One always hopes that the children would do better than one does one’s self, Matti says.
Family-centredness is the core of the lifestyle of the Hannukselas. They maintain contact with all of the children every week.
– If something happens, everyone will know it right away, Eira laughs.
The grandparents hold boys’ and girls’ ‘camps for their grandchildren. The adult sons go sailing with their brothers.
Grandfather also exchanges letters with his grandchildren. He shows a piece of multi-coloured stationery with news related to a small girl’s life written in neat block letters.
Eira ponders the significance of the family. Matti’s family was not Laestadian. He says that he saw the light at the age of 20 while serving in the army. Eira is the youngest of a Laestadian family, and has always lived in the faith and inside the community.
– I can’t imagine what life would be like without that security, Eira says.
One of the children of Eira and Matti is not a Laestadian.
– Just as loved as the others, they say immediately.
– We have a good connection and a common love. The child is always welcome at home, and their family is also intact, Matti says.
The girls play the piano at times, and at times the violin. There is much sound. Sanna says that one of the adolescents once sent a text message asking mother to put the violins in the fireplace or he wouldn’t come down.
There is playing and singing at Christmas, but serenity is the most important – listening to the declaration of the Christmas Peace, and reading the Christmas Gospel.
– Is such a big group of children capable of being quiet? Yes, say the Hannukselas. Sometimes Matti would order the rambunctious boys to go to bed and calm down before Santa Claus arrives. Sanna has accepted that Christmas peace does not descend until after Santa’s visit.
Grandmother calls about 25 friends.
– I don’t send Christmas greetings by text message, Grandmother Eira says.
The spiritual message of Christmas is the most important part.
Matti says that they are in the faith out of providence, and that faith cannot be forced on anyone. For Eira, forgiveness is the most important part of her faith.
– None of us are angels. People often blurt out things before they have the chance to think. But you can ask for forgiveness for your mistakes – forget them and start from the beginning.
The faith is shared with the community, but Christmas is for the family. For Eira it gives strength. She is not worn out after Christmas.
– It is possible to build on the foundation of Christmas. The edges of the old year have been worn down, and we move toward new things with joy.
Matti describes stunts played by the children.
– We have fourteen children, and each one is different. It is an amazing thing. He thinks how quickly the time went.
– And the really crazy thing is that we are happy, Eira says.
* * *
(By Anna-Stina Nykänen, Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 16.12.2007.)
Edward Dutton: Conservative Laestadians in Oulu
Finally Free: Leaving LLC made me who I am
Nuoret jättävät vanhoillislestadiolaisuuden – suuri syntyvyys ei kasvata jäsenmäärää (The young generation leaves Conservative Laestadianism – number of members doesn’t grow despite the high birth rate; in Finnish)
Anna-Stina Nykänen: I left the Conservative Laestadian movement (in ten years)
The world’s biggest family: The man with 39 wives, 94 children and 33 grandchildren. Daily Mail 19.2.2011.
Irina Vähäsarja: Shedding light on child abuse among the Laestadians. Helsingin Sanomat 17.4.2011.