No matter how modern it may become, Christmas will also always be synonymous with age-old traditions. We take a look at the high points of the Finnish Christmas season, from early December to the day after the big day.
After the first weekend of Advent, the unveiling of outdoor Christmas decorations, and a multitude of pre-Christmas parties, the next important holiday in Finland is Independence Day, which coincides with the feast day of Saint Nicholas, December 6.
The next milestone in the lead-up to Christmas is December 13, Santa Lucia’s day. It’s celebrated with a beautiful, singing procession led by a girl dressed in white wearing a crown of candles. This observance originally came to Finland from Sweden, where it became linked with Christmas because it happens to fall in mid-December.
Lucia was originally a Sicilian maid who defied her father by refusing to marry the man he had chosen for her. She suffered a martyr’s death. The flames of the candles in the procession denote her martyrdom.
In the Nordic countries, the most important Christmas celebration takes place on Christmas Eve. Finnish traditions include the Christmas sauna and the preparation of Christmas dinner. The highlight of the evening comes when Santa knocks on the door and asks, “Are there any well-behaved children here?” Naturally, every home contains only good children and they all receive presents.
Since Christmas Eve forms the most important day of the Christmas season in Finland, it is fitting that at noon on the Eve, “Christmas Peace” is proclaimed in Turku, the oldest city in the country. The tradition dates back to the 13th century.
The bells of the 14th-century Turku Cathedral sound in many a Finnish home as people view the age-old ceremony on television. Then the festivities begin.
Christmas Day and beyond
Christmas Day is a time for rest and relaxation, like reading books Santa Claus brought and eating food left over from Christmas Eve. People wait until Saint Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day), December 26, to pay visits to friends and relatives. And if the weather permits, people visit outdoor events arranged by heritage societies.
According to legend, Saint Stephen was a stable boy of King Herod, and in Finland, as elsewhere, Stephen became the patron saint of horses and horsemen. On Saint Stephen’s Day horses are included in the celebration of Christmas. In the past, horses pulled the sleighs when people visited friends and relatives, and sleigh rides can still be enjoyed at many a Saint Stephen’s Day event.
By Sinikka Salokorpi