Christmas Traditions in Finland

Finnish people seem to think that Christmas is the greatest feast of the year. It is full of family traditions, homemade food, steambaths in a sauna, bringing a Christmas tree into the house, giving and getting presents, all this together with the family.

As Christmas is a very social time, full of the joy of children, it is also a time for people to find peace. Many people feel that the truly important things are come second to the commerciality.

In Finland, we have a tradition of having the actual children’s feast on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. Before the eve most of the work should be done, homes are clean, cupboards full of food, the tree decorated by the children and the presents covered with paper. All the families come together, grown up children with their own families and any single relatives, very few of Finnish spend Christmas by themselves.

The “official” Christmas starts when the Christmas peace is announced from one of the oldest cities in Finland, the former headcity, Turku. The announcer is the President of Finland and many people follow the event, mostly via radio. Announcement includes the ideal way to spend Christmas, by not harming anyone elses right to celebrate this great feast of Christians.

Most of the Finnish people are Christians, almost 100% are members of The Lutheran Church of Finland. Some Finns go to the ceremony only once a year and that is at Christmas time. They either join the night ceremony on Christmas Eve or traditionally wake up early in the morning of the actual Christmas day to go to church in a “reki” pulled by a horse. Attending the service is memorable, churches are full of people, familiar hymns are sung and all is peaceful, as is the story of the newborn baby, Jesus Christ, son of our God.

When the service is over, there is time for having fun. Traditionally people race their horses on the way back home. Since we have a long period of snow-time, Christmas is usually white in Finland. It is a tremendous feeling to be outdoors with the family, playing with the children, singing and lighting candles.

In southern Finland there is daylight for a few hours, but in the Northern part of Finland, at least behind the polar circle, there is no daylight at all during the winter time, this is called “Kaamos” time in Finland. In the darkness, a beautiful view can be found in each town’s graveyard. Most Finns go to the cemeteries on Christmas to remember their relatives and friends that already passed. Seeing that sea of candles and feeling the grief of the people that have lost someone, is maybe the biggest spiritual moments that I ever experienced. Maybe that is a place for a Finn to be near God, too.

After the visit in graveyard is the time to go to sauna. Everyone goes together into the steambath room, which traditionally is lightless and also full of smoke, but nowadays sauna is a clean, hot room made of wood, with a fireplace in the corner of it. Feeling clean, outside and inside, families start having a meal of christmas eve. The dishes made of beetroots, oven made carrot and lanttufood, whole greasy ham, and the salty dessert, rice porrige and raisin soup might sound exotic to foreigners. Finns prefer the Christmas dinner traditional, and they eat a lot, sometimes even the whole Christmas night.

After the dinner, singing together or reading the Bible is usual. Children are anxiously waiting for a certain visitor, the Santa Claus to bring presents with his reindeer. The Santa Claus, Father Christmas is known to be living in the Northern Finland, also called Lappland. The Korvatunturi is a high, little mountain where the Santa is supposed to be living. Santa Claus is very busy at Christmas, he stays just a moment in each home to be able to visit all the homes in the whole world.

Finnish people believe that Father Christmas, Santa Claus, lives in the north part of Finland called Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. It is only fair to say that the people of Greenland say that really, Father Christmas lives in Greenland. There is a even big tourist theme park called ‘Christmas Land’ in the north of Finland, near to where they say that Father Christmas lives.

Everyone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is very special, when people eat rice porridge and plum fruit juice in the morning. They will then decorate a spruce tree in the home. At mid-day, the ‘peace of Christmas’ is broadcast on radio and TV from the Finnish city of Turku by its Mayor. In the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner is eaten. The meal will include ‘casseroles’ containg macaroni, rutabaga, carrot and potato, with cooked ham or turkey. Many families will visit cemeteries and grave-yards to place a candle onto the burial graves of family members. 

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One Response to “Christmas Traditions in Finland”

  1. Esa

    May I suggest the following improvements:

    It is not the President who declares the Christmas peace.
    “Headcity” = capital.
    The percentage of Lutherans come nowhere near 100 %.
    No one really goes to church in a sledge anymore.
    No sauna is full of smoke when being used, and never was.
    “Lanttufood” = swede.
    Rice porridge with raisin fool is definitely not salty.
    And I am not quite sure about the Bible reading, either.