I have Finnish great-grandparents, but never knew them, and I don’t know much about Finnish culture and traditions. So I’m excited that my lovely friend Annika of Hei Moose is here to show us what Christmas looks like in her home country of Finland, starting with Independence Day — today!
Finnish Independence Day / Itsenäisyyspäivä
The whole December is exciting and busy time in Finland! Already on the 6th of December we celebrate our Independence Day (itsenäisyyspäivä) and a celebration is held at the presidential castle where many public figures, foreign diplomats, celebs and even ordinary Finns (who have done something great during the year) gather to celebrate. The celebrations are broadcast live on the Finnish TV and can also be viewed online here, which is what many Finns living abroad like myself will be doing on that day. Two candles are also lit on a window sill to remember those who died in the war.
Image Credit: Studio55.fi
Soon after the Independence Day, the 13th of December is the Lucia Day. It is said that Lucia brings the light in the dark and is the symbolises light as she carries (live) candles in her hair. The Lucia and her train go right through Helsinki.
Image Credit: Petri Pusa
The Christmas preparations should usually start well in advance and include a proper tidy up of the house, sending Christmas cards, preparing food (such as baking gingerbread men and gingerbread houses for the well advanced chefs, baking plum tarts, getting the ham sorted etc.) and taking part in the ‘little Christmas parties’ thrown by companies, friends etc. Lots of glögi i.e. mulled wine is consumed and it doesn’t always have to be vodka fuelled either.
Image Credit: Fine Little Day
Christmas Peace (Joulurauhanjulistus)
Christmas is celebrated on the Christmas Eve (24th Dec) in Finland. Some people may have to work on this day but many will have taken the day off. By 12 o’clock all tasks should be finished and the Finns traditionally turn to watch TV as the Christmas Peace (joulurauhanjulistus) is announced in Turku, the oldest town in Finland. The message is a peaceful Christmas to everyone (literally the people living in the town of Turku).
Image Credit: Veli-Pekka Suuronen
The Christmas morning is started by a rice porridge that is had with cinnamon and sugar. There is also one almond in the porridge and the person who gets it can have a wish. In our family there are more than enough almonds for everyone!
The Christmas tree may have been decorated already earlier but ours is usually brought in on the day. Our tree decorations are of the traditional Christmas tree style, i.e. all sorts of decorations together regardless of the colour or the style. The Finns traditionally top the tree with a star but recently I’ve also seen angels sold in the shops. A wreath is also hung outside the front door, although they may not be as massive as seen in other countries. Also external lights are very modest compared to for example some of the British displays. Other traditional Christmas decorations include for example straw mobiles. The typical Christmas flowers are amaryllis, poinsettia and hyacinths.
During the day and the early evening the Finns visit the cemeteries to light candles for the loved ones that are no longer with us and actually the cemeteries look very beautiful with hundreds of candles in the darkening evening.
Image Credit: Jussi Hellsten
Families usually celebrate Christmas together and might even go to a sauna before the festive meal. The festive meal is based on tradition from farmer houses when the times were tough. The main meat is a ham roast that is usually prepared in advance by roasting the ham in the oven overnight (in a low temperature). There are also always 3 different casseroles of carrot and rice, potato, and swede, many different fishes including gravad lax and herring salad.
Image Credit: Studio Fotoni via Finland.fi’s Christmas Recipes
Finnish Santa Claus
In Finland we are great believers in Santa Claus, which is a no surprise seeing as he lives in Finnish Lapland, in a place called Korvatunturi! The departure of the Santa on the 23 rd is even shown on the main news and apparently the clip is shown worldwide. If there are kids in the family, the Santa usually pays a visit and always asks if the children have been good. The smaller the children, the earlier the visit takes a place.
Image Credit: Finland Santa for SantaTelevision.com
The rest of the evening is spent together by playing games or watching tv etc. Traditionally there are also Christmas night church masses.
The Christmas day is a quiet day in Finnish families and traditionally the Boxing Day is for visiting families and friends. This is also for ‘Tapanin Tanssit’ Stephen’s Dance and people are allowed to go to dance; there are even particular ‘Tapanin Tanssit’ in some bars.
Hyvää joulua – Happy Christmas from Hei Moose!