Christmas is an important and age-old celebration worldwide, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. The people of Finland celebrate this day annually, gathering together on Christmas Eve. In this article, we intend to explore the Christmas traditions in Finland—stay with us.
Christmas Traditions in Finland
Many Finnish traditions for Christmas have remained steadfast over decades, passed down from generation to generation. Among these traditions are Christmas sauna, church visits, lighting candles at cemeteries, listening to Christmas carols, decorating homes and trees, Santa visits, and gatherings with friends and family.
One of the traditions in Finland is the declaration of peace. This proclamation takes place at midnight in the old market square of Turku and dates back to the 17th century. People living in other cities can follow this declaration through radio, television, or the internet. During this declaration, the Finnish national anthem and songs significant in the patriotic culture of Finland are heard.
The celebration of Christmas Eve is one of the significant occasions of the year in Finland, where families gather, enjoying various foods and a joyful atmosphere. On Christmas Eve, usually, two-colored blue and white candles are lit in front of windows and decorate the house’s yard. Inside the homes, the Christmas tree and related ornaments are placed. After dinner, some families head to the sauna for further relaxation.
Christmas Tree Decoration
The origin of the Christmas tree has numerous stories, but it seems the tradition dates back to Germany in the 16th century. At that time, pine trees were small, so they were either placed on tables or hung from the ceiling. Over time, this tradition spread to other countries. Nobles in Northern European countries and Finland started decorating Christmas trees from the 19th century. Back then, trees were adorned with candles, sweets, or ribbons. In Finland, it was customary to bring the Christmas tree directly from the forest, but nowadays, most trees are bought from markets. In recent decades, artificial trees have gained popularity, and some have switched to these instead of using real trees.
Traditional Christmas Foods
One of the main components of Christmas celebrations in Finland is the traditional local cuisine.
The festive meal on Christmas starts with rice porridge. Inside one of the bowls of porridge, an almond is hidden, and whoever finds it will have a year filled with joy and luck. Christmas porridge is usually served with cinnamon, sugar, and butter. Some families consume porridge for lunch instead of breakfast. A significant part of this tradition is group eating of the porridge.
Another favorite treat during this time is gingerbread cookies, which are usually found on most dinner tables. At many Christmas-related events, there are baking and decorating competitions where enthusiasts showcase their skills.
Ham, Fish, and Christmas Tart
Early in the evening, a traditional Christmas meal is served at the dinner table. The entire family gathers to celebrate. The mealtime varies among families—some might have Christmas dinner in late afternoon, while others stay at the table until evening. A tradition before Christmas dinner in Finland is reading the gospel and singing carols, usually accompanied by a piano.
The aim of the Christmas feast is to spend serene moments with family and loved ones. The most important dish on the Christmas table in Finland is “joulupöytä” (Christmas table), featuring “joulukinkku” (ham) cooked in a special way. Other traditional Christmas foods include various casseroles like carrot and Swedish casserole, served alongside the main dish and fish. Christmas tart, a fluffy star-shaped pastry filled with plum jam, is a classic pastry that’s highly popular among Finns on Christmas Day.
Letter to Santa Claus
As Christmas approaches, children are asked to write a letter to Santa Claus, telling him how good they’ve been throughout the year and what they wish to receive for the holidays. Subsequently, children place these letters in the mailbox or a glass container, eagerly awaiting the night when Santa’s helpers collect them. Usually, parents pick up the letters and purchase the requested gifts for their children’s needs.
Saint Lucy’s Day Celebration
For the Swedish-speaking Finns, who comprise about 6% of the population, Saint Lucy’s Day is considered a precursor to the Christmastime celebrations. On December 13th, a girl in a long white gown carrying candles illuminates joy and light. Lucy, chosen annually by the people, visits hospitals, nursing homes, and places that might require light and brightens them with candles.
Christmas Day in Finland: Talking to Santa Claus
The start of Christmas morning in Finland involves turning on the television and watching Santa Claus talk to children via telephone from the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. Before Santa heads out to deliver his gifts, he talks to the children, making them happy. Spending the Christmas morning listening to a bustling phone line is a vivid memory of childhood for many Finns. In the past, half of the Finnish children wished to talk to Santa, but only a few lucky ones succeeded! This program has been broadcast annually since 1991 on Yle TV 2.
Attending Church on Christmas Eve
Churches in Finland are never as full on any other night as they are on Christmas Eve. It’s a time for singing Christmas carols and lighting candles on the graves of loved ones. On Christmas Eve, cemeteries are filled with beautifully lit candles by people. This tradition dates back to wartime when people lit candles in remembrance of fallen soldiers, and it has persisted until today.
Christmas Sauna in Finland
Sauna is a place for peace and quiet that Finns have a great affinity for throughout the year. Usually, individuals who don’t go to church on Christmas often go to the sauna and enjoy its warmth and serenity. Spending time to relieve stress is deeply rooted in Finnish holiday traditions, which is why saunas are highly popular in the country.
Meeting Santa Claus on Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus visits homes and, after knocking on the door, inquires whether a well-behaved child lives there or not. After the children respond, Santa enters the house with his gifts. Traditions vary from home to home, but usually, children sing songs for Santa and have a brief conversation with him. Then, Santa reaches into his bag and calls out the recipient’s name for the gift.
In some cases where Santa is in a rush, he might hand over the gifts to the family and ask them to distribute them among the children. The rest of the Christmas Eve is spent in absolute peace. While everyone is delighted with their gifts, they change into comfortable clothes and settle down to watch a movie.
Christmas Day Events in Finland
Various events and markets are held across Finland in celebration of Christmas. In Rovaniemi, Christmas kicks off with a lively event in Santa Claus Village. Traditionally, this event begins with a music concert and concludes with Santa’s speech, joy, and singing. In Ranua, the Christmas season starts with a gingerbread cookie market held at the Peura Sports Hall. In Helsinki, the start of the Christmas season is marked by the magnificent lighting of Christmas lights, indicating the official start of the holidays.
Spending Christmas Day in Finland will create wonderful memories for you. Finns have interesting traditions for celebrating Christmas, and they never overlook the sauna. On Christmas Eve, they prefer to enjoy a delightful meal with their families and later watch a movie or head out to the streets for celebrations. Some opt for the sauna for added relaxation. Visiting Finland during these days of the year can be an ideal choice for a holiday getaway.