Christmas traditions in Finland
Finland is the home of Santa Claus and Christmas Land. That is one reason why Christmas in Finland can be truly memorable especially for visitors. Finnish traditions are also very different from many other countries and regions in the world. They have some similarities with neighboring Scandinavian countries and some traditions are shared among other Christian households around the world.
The first Sunday in December is called the First Advent and it is the start for the Finnish Christmas season. Many children – and why not adults also – use advent calendars for counting down the days until Christmas Eve. Those calendars come in many forms from a simple paper calendar to wooden boxes with holes for small items.
December 13 is St. Lucia Day, known as the Feast of Saint Lucy. Saint Lucia was a martyr who brought food to hiding Christians. She used a candle-lit crown in her head so that she was able to carry as much food as possible. In Finland the day is celebrated with lots of candles and formal celebrations all over the country. Usually, in schools they choose one girl to perform as St. Lucia and she is main part of the celebrations wearing a white robe and a crown of candles.
Saint Lucia Day is usually the day that Finnish people begin to start Christmas tree shopping and decorating. Families and friends also begin to exchange Christmas cards at this time, some prefer to send cards traditionally but nowadays different kinds of internet cards are also quite popular.
The usual Christmas decorations are spruce twigs, Christmas trees, Christmas wreaths, straw goats, himmelis, apples, candles, Christmas tablecloths, Christmas flowers, outdoor torches, ice lanterns and sheafs. To preserve nature some people choose a tree in the garden or forest to decorate for the birds, instead of buying a Christmas tree.
Christmas Eve in Finland is filled with the bright sounds of carols and local Christmas songs. Santa Claus, called Joulupukki in Finnish, generally visits most houses on Christmas Eve to give presents. People in Finland, and actually not only in Finland, believe that Santa Claus lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi (or Lapland), north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. There is also a big tourist theme park called Christmas Land in the north of Finland, near to where people say that Father Christmas lives.
Traditions on Christmas Eve in Finland include going to a Christmas mass if you are Catholic. Many Finnish families also visit cemeteries to remember lost loved ones. Finnish Sauna is also a really important part of the Christmas Eves celebrations. On Christmas Eve tradition is to eat rice porridge, with cinnamon, for breakfast. There is a hidden almond in the porridge and the one who gets the almond on his plate gets a good luck for the next year.
The Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finland from the Middle Ages every year, the only exception was in 1939 because of the Winter War. The most famous one of these declarations is on the Old Great Square of Turku, the former capital of Finland, at noon on Christmas Eve.
It is broadcast on Finnish radio and television, and nowadays also in some foreign countries. The declaration ceremony begins with the hymn Jumala ompi linnamme (Martin Luther’s ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’) by a band consisting of the Finnish Navy and a male choir. The ceremony continues with the Declaration of Christmas Peace read from a parchment roll, in both Finnish and Swedish, the country’s two official languages:
”Tomorrow, God willing, is the most gracious feast of the birth of our Lord and Saviour, and therefore a general Christmas peace is hereby declared, and all persons are directed to observe this holiday with due reverence and otherwise quietly and peacefully to conduct themselves, for whosoever breaks this peace and disturbs the Christmas holiday by any unlawful or improper conduct shall be liable, under aggravating circumstances, to whatever penalty is prescribed by law and decree for each particular offence or misdemeanour.”
Finally, all citizens are wished a joyful Christmas holiday.
The ceremony ends with trumpets playing the Finnish national anthem Maamme and Porilaisten marssi, with the crowd singing when the band plays Maamme.
Recently, there is also a declaration of Christmas peace for forest animals in many cities and municipalities, so there is no hunting during Christmas.
More or less, during the time of the appearance of the first star in the sky people dress up for the Christmas dinner. The most traditional dish of the Finnish Christmas dinner is probably Christmas ham, roast suckling pig or a roasted fresh ham. Some may prefer alternatives like turkey. Other traditional dishes are several sorts of casseroles, for example carrot and potato.
Easter traditions in Finland
Easter is the most important annual feast day for Finland’s Orthodox Christians, who make up approximately one percent of the population. It is also a time of holy celebration for active members of the majority of Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has more than four million members.
Easter in Finland is an exciting mixture of history, traditions and flavours. The religious roots of the Christian feast are still visible nowadays. Besides celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, Easter in Finland is all about welcoming the long-waited spring after the dark and cold winter months. It is often consider as planting the seeds for happiness and health for the coming summer season.
If you open the door on the Sunday before Easter you may be confronted by little witches offering to bless your home in return for treats. The witches perform a traditional rhyme at the door: ”I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a treat for me!”
(In Finnish: Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!)
Tradition mixes two older traditions – a Russian Orthodox ritual where birch twigs originally represent the palms laid down when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; and a Swedish and Western Finnish tradition in which children made fun of earlier fears that evil witches could appear on Easter Sunday.
The most common dish for a Finnish Easter Sunday dinner is a roast lamb. Two seasonal local desserts are also widely enjoyed; mämmi and pasha. Mämmi is a dark brown pudding made of malt and rye flour. It looks quite unappetising but it tastes good, especially served with cream and sugar. Pasha is a creamy coloured pudding made of sweetened homemade cheese, eggs and cream.
A long time ago bonfires were ignited on Holy Saturday to keep away the witches and evil spirits. People used to believe that the smoke and sparks prevent the witches making any harm to people, so – the more smoke, the better. The bonfire tradition still exists in some level, but mostly in western parts of Finland.
Growing grass is also one important tradition and it symbolizes the arrival of spring. When the grass is long enough, children put painted Easter eggs and other Easter decoration items standing in the grass.
Anni Ruskela, a volunteer from Kajaani, Finland.
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