"Hyvaa Joulua" is how you would generally wish someone 'Merry Christmas' in Finland. The first Sunday in December marks the beginning of the Finnish Christmas season and Advent calendars are used to keep a count of the number of days left for Christmas Eve. Unlike most other countries, Christmas Eve i.e.24th December, is the main highlight of the celebration and not the Christmas day itself. This time of the year in Finland is basically a time to withdraw oneself from worldly affairs and focus on being humble. The true spirit of Christmas in Finland lies in remembering and paying tribute to those who have passed away. The serene quietness and a highly reduced number of people on the roads of Finland, during this time, can be quite surprising. Christmas in Finland isn't much about partying and extravagant celebrations. People prefer to stay indoors and spend quality time with friends and family. Below is an overview of the fine Finnish way of celebrating Christmas.
Finnish Christmas Customs
The Christmas tree is decorated with candles, lights, glass balls and ribbons. Traditionally the tree is brought in on Christmas Eve and decorated. Lighting paper stars is quite popular in Finland. Amongst the decorations, the traditional Nordic Billy goat made of straw is highly used. It represents Christmas gnomes and angels. A multi dimensional object, called the "Himmeli", is hung above the table to ensure abundant harvest of the rye crop.
While many countries deem Christmas day to be the most important day of the season, in Finland, Christmas celebrations revolve around the eve of this day. Christmas Eve is declared at 12 noon on 24th December from the ex-capital of Finland, Turku. It is a belief held by Finnish people, that the following twenty days should be honored and peaceful. Many people attend the Christmas Eve church service and also attend cemeteries to light candles on the graves of their deceased relatives and friends.
Finnish families get together and sip on glasses of hot mulled wine called "Glögi". Lunch is then served during the early hours of the day. It usually comprises of porridge with a hidden almond in it; the person who finds the almond sings a song.
Visiting saunas on Christmas Eve before the evening celebrations begin has been an old tradition in Finland. The sauna is a symbol of purity, and warming up and relaxing here is an ancient custom. Also, many important acts have been and are still carried out in the sauna, like giving birth, dying and healing sicknesses etc. Hence, it is regarded as a holy place.
Traditional Christmas dinner in Finland comprises of a cold platter of fish like Graavi or Salmon, with fish eggs and salad on the side. After that, baked Ham with mustard sauce is served with baked vegetables. Beetroot salad, smoked salmon and/or pickled herring are served as side dishes to the main course. No Christmas meal is complete without fine desserts. Finnish Christmas desserts include gingerbread, shortbread, biscuits, prune and jam filled pastries.
Santa - 'Joulupukki'
Usually, after, dinner on Christmas Eve, children await the arrival of Santa to come and distribute gifts. Many people believe Santa Claus resides in Lapland in Finland. In Finnish, Santa Claus is called Joulupukki. Every year, Finland receives a large amount of letters from children throughout the world requesting for gifts.
Christmas day is usually spent in a quiet and peaceful manner at home in Finland. Many attend the early morning church service and the next day, called the St Stephen Day, is usually a day for family visits.
Read about Christmas and its traditions in Finland and Finnish Christmas customs.