“Look mummy! It’s Christmas!” the small girl said as Sarah Dawn Finer walked into the post office.
Such is the role of the “Christmas Host” on television each year that the child simply equated the well-known singer with the holiday itself.
It was a somewhat nervous but happy-looking Finer who popped up on television sets across Sweden this year at five minutes to 2pm. That’s when hosts after a short preamble light a candle to kick off the Christmas special broadcast on Sveriges Television (SVT).
The broadcast runs throughout the afternoon of Christmas Eve, with the host presenting a series of traditional programmes to viewers around Sweden.
“My nephew was upset that I wasn’t going to be home for Christmas Eve,” the half-English half-American singer told Svenska Dagbladet newspaper in the run-up to Christmas.
“But I’m able to be with and touch people all over Sweden in a way I didn’t think was possible.”
She began by telling the viewers the story of her post-office encounter, then it was time for the candle. She had failed to light it during rehearsals and as the producer told her there was three minutes left until going live she felt utter panic.
It might sound ever so simple, but few have ever lit a candle with almost 4 million people watching. And she did it. No dropped matches, scorched finger tips or fiddling with a limp wick.
Finer is no stranger to Swedish television viewers. She was only seven when she got a role in the series Maskrosbarnen (The Dandelion Children) and some years later took part in the iconic stories of Bert.
But singing was always part of her life, and she toured with her sister throughout her adolescence.
She says that for her, Christmas is less about religion and more about family – and of course, listening to music. Her Christmases mix Swedish traditions with those from her father’s England and from her mother’s native US.
She credits them for her tenacity.
“Both my parents have shown me that anything is possible by moving here and building a life,” Finer told SvD.
“I’ll always feel a certain degree of alienation here because I’m different, not the norm.”
Yet, if Finer was Swedish Christmas this year, she has for the past few years been strongly associated with the most Swedish of all musical bonanzas – the Eurovision qualifiers Melodifestivalen, which stretches the breadth and width of the country and feeds its fodder to the tabloids on every step of the way.
At first she was a contestant, performing in 2007 with I Remember Love, which came in fourth. With her second try in 2009, with the song Moving On, she again made it into the finals but finished only seventh.
Despite never earning the singer prime position, both songs clung on and were the most played tunes on radio in their respective years.
Her role in this year’s outing was somewhat different. She took centre stage right from the start as one of three co-hostesses alongside actress Helena Bergström and comedienne Gina Darawi.
Despite the glittering list of successes, she has admitted to insecurity in previous interviews. She even calls herself fragile. And when she was interviewed by Elle Magazine following her Eurovision hostess stint, she could not hide a certain self-consciousness.
“In everyday life I wear a lot of black, often a leather jacket some tights and a black dress. I’m not very good with clothes. Clothes take time when you need to work magic,” she told Elle.
Her go-to designer is the legendary Swedish dressmaker Camilla Thulin, who has sewn her made-to-order dresses for almost a decade. If she were to raid any of the Hollywood A-listers’ closets it would have to be “curvy women like Jill Scott, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Oprah.”
Oprah also gets a peek in on a list of inspirational women that Elle asked her to share. As does Madonna. And her mum.
The musical inspiration list is a few inches longer: Eva Cassidy, Jay-Z, Anna Ternhem, D’angelo, Ryan Adams… although Stevie Wonder and Tracy Chapman are the ones to snag a joint first place.