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President talks al-Hol orphans, food security at Christmas gift ceremony

The presidential household received gifts of produce, a Christmas tree and flowers from different parts of the country.

The President and his wife Jenni Haukio received the seasonal gifts on Thursday. Image: Yle
Yle News

President Sauli Niinistö on Thursday commended reported efforts to repatriate Finnish children living at the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, which houses some family members of Isis fighters.

At the time Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio had just received gifts of produce from different parts of the country as part of a long-running Christmas tradition. Niinistö was asked to respond to reports that two orphans had already been evacuated from the camp in Syria.

The president told media representatives that he had the same information that was publicly available everyone else. However he noted that other Nordic countries had already returned orphaned nationals from the region.

"This is probably the initial stage. It’s is good that Finns are also acting," Niinistö added.

As part of the gift-giving ceremony at Mäntyniemi, the presidential couple’s official residence, Niinistö and Haukio received a Christmas tree from forestry students at the University of Helsinki, as well as flowers, including tulips, amaryllis and poinsettias.

Niinistö flags food security

The Niinistös’ Christmas ham arrived from Vehmaa in western Finland and was gifted by the local agricultural producers’ association. The president said that he was delighted to see young producers and noted that weather phenomena and climate change may cause regional food shortages.

"Finland cannot afford to lose its ability to produce food," he commented.

The Finnish Nature League donated a vegetable hamper including health-boosting lingonberries, which also spoke to the benefits of spending time in the forest.

The Niinistö household also received a pike from Korpo in the Turku archipelago, fished from local waters by resident Klaus Mattson of Jurmo, an island in the archipelago. It was his third time supplying the seasonal offering.

This year’s fish was silver, a colouring said to be rare for the species. The custom of giving a Christmas pike dates back to the 18th century, when residents presented it to the monarch for Christmas. It is generally served in a fish stew along with potatoes and swedes.

Karjalan liitto (the Karelian Association), a group for Winter War evacuees from the region, handed over their signature Karelian pies as well as potato pies baked fresh on Thursday morning. The organisation will celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2020.

This year’s Finnish Lucia, Sara Ray, led a choir and performed the Santa Lucia hymn along with other selections. Additional entertainment was provided by the Helsinki Cathedral boys’ choir, Cantores Minores.

In 2016, the presidential family’s pet Boston terrier, Lemu, stole the show when he was overcome by the presence of fish and ham in the array of gifts.

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