Finland – A European Christmas Story

The Christmas Season in Finland starts on the first Sunday in December, known as the First Advent. As in the UK children use advent calendars to count down the remaining days to Christmas Eve. These come in many forms –  from a simple paper calendar with flaps covering each of the days to painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items.

A key date in the celebrations is December 13, St. Lucia Day, or the Feast of Saint Lucy. Saint Lucia was a 3rd-century martyr who brought food to Christians hiding from the Pagan rulers of Finland at that time. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head to light her way, leaving her hands free to carry as much food as possible. In Finland, the day is celebrated with lots of candles and formal celebrations. Traditionally, the eldest girl in the family dresses as St. Lucia, with a white robe and a crown of candles. She serves her parents buns, cookies, coffee, or mulled wine.

Traditions on Christmas Eve in Finland include going to a Christmas mass if you are Catholic and even relaxing in a Finnish sauna! Some Finnish families visit cemeteries to remember lost loved ones. Some people have a special porridge for lunch with a hidden almond in it. The person who gets the almond has to sing a song and is brought good luck.

Christmas dinner is served in Finland on Christmas Eve. The meal traditionally consists of oven-baked ham, rutabaga (a type of root vegetable) casserole, beetroot salad, and other foods common in Nordic countries.

Santa Claus, called Joulupukki in Finnish, generally visits most houses on Christmas Eve to give presents to children who have been good. People in Finland believe that Santa lives in the north part of Finland, called Korvatunturi or “Lapland”, north of the Arctic Circle. Children from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland.

Christmas in Finland does not officially end until 13 days after Christmas Day. This means that Finns start wishing each other Hyvää Joulua, or “Merry Christmas,” weeks before Christmas day and continue to do so for nearly two weeks afterwards!

A personal story:

By Jenna Koskivuori

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

Rice porridge is a common Christmas breakfast or dessert, we don’t have it sweet like rice pudding – milk, pudding rice and salt, when cooked we hide a whole peeled almond, the one who finds it is seen to bring good luck. I love rice porridge with sprinkles of cinnamon and sugar, a knob of butter and milk. A dried fruit soup is a traditional accompaniment. Mixed dried fruit cooked in a mix of juice and water, sugar and cinnamon and add a bit of potato starch to make it less liquid and it’s ready for the porridge.

Christmas dinner in Finland is a mustard and breadcrumb coated overnight baked ham, more modernly also turkey or seitan may be at the table. Karelian hot pot is a chunky meat stew that is traditional also at Christmas. Fish dishes, herring in different marinades, cured white fish, smoked or cured salmon, roasted salmon, roe/caviar. Other dishes include boiled potatoes, meatballs, peas, malted christmas bread, chopped beetroot salad called rosolli. A selection of oven baked dishes/casseroles or bakes differentiate the meal from any other. These are: carrot and rice, swede, sweetened mashed potato and liver. 

Cheese boards are popular and plenty of Finnish Fazer and Panda confectionery along with Glogi, a hot mulled drink with or without alcohol and Piparkakut – Christmas biscuits with warming spices. Red apples are traditional and satsumas pricked with cloves, pinwheels with prune jam is a quick treat to accompany Glogi or a dark Christmas beer. Christmas biscuit houses are decorated in the run up to Chrstmas and displayed at home, decorated with sweets and eaten at Christmas. 

Q2. What is your fondest memories of Christmas?

Snowy Christmas is always special even in Finland – in southern Finland snow isn’t guaranteed anymore.

As an adult my best memory must be taking my partner and daughter home to my parents house for the first time during Christmas. In Finland, Santa visits every home and if you are lucky enough you have a chance to meet him when he delivers your presents. My old school friend with a talent for acting visited us that year and it was wonderful, we sang a song together, often kids sing to Santa, and he shared the presents and then our daughter got to take photos with him. Needless to say our daughter was impressed.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

Present wise very similar to here (toys, sweets, games, games consoles, clothing, electronics, pampering treats or event tickets, charity donations in their name etc) although usually less presents but things that are  needed or good quality. Hand made products are also popular like self- knitted warm socks etc. 

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