Christmas in Finland

Christmas in Finland

Helsinki Christmas Market. Photo by VisitFinland

For most Finns, Christmas is the festive season of the year. Many Finns also celebrate Christmas in a very traditional format. During the holidays, everyone’s allowed to retreat to the warmth of one’s home or head to a holiday home with one’s family and close friends.

Hardly any other festivities divide Finns so strongly into “for and against” as Christmas does. For many, being part of the “Christmas tribe” is a matter of honour that comes with the mother’s milk. Along the year, even during warm summer days, wannabe elves are already designing how they’re going to have the birch branch by the cottage terrace as a focal point at the Christmas table. When acquiring their arsenal of gifts and ornaments for the next year, members of the Christmas tribe have an unbeatable tactic: naturally, they start out already at the Christmas season sales. On the other hand, anti-Christmas people are most definitely appalled by the ever-earlier start of the commercial holiday season at the shopping centres.

Santa Claus, the most loved celebrity of Finland. Photo by Juho Kuva /VisitFinland

But, even the more cynical of hearts probably melt for a moment when seeing the sincere joy of children meeting the white-bearded Santa Claus at the shopping centre plaza. Speaking of Santa: he’s a gift that Finland has bestowed on all children and children-at-heart throughout the world. The real Santa Claus, namely, hails from Finland’s Korvatunturi Fell. Although Finns are otherwise modest, this fact never remains unmentioned by any Finnish person to any foreign nationals.

These days, more and more foreigners head to Finnish Lapland and the Arctic Circle in December to meet Santa and his reindeer, in addition to experiencing a dash of white Christmas magic: thick snowdrifts, blazing Northern Lights in the dark and the overwhelming quiet. Some Finns, on the other hand, flee these very things of the holiday season to warmer southern regions – since Christmas in Finland comes at a time when darkness prevails over light.

Traditional Finnish rice porridge. Photo by Ingela Nyman /VisitFinland

But those who stay enjoy the season in its most traditional setting with pleasure. The Finnish Yule festivities commence with rice porridge during the dusky morning hours of Christmas Eve. An almond hiding inside the porridge brings its finder good luck for the new year to come. After the almond hunt is over, it is easy to quiet the children down while they wait for Santa by having them watch the Christmas classics shown on TV. At the latest by mid-day, the adults, too, have reason to calm down as the Christmas Peace is declared in Turku, Finland’s former capital. This tradition has been preserved virtually without interruption from the Middle Ages to this day, and the announcement is watched by a large group of Finnish viewers through media.

After this, the order of the following Christmas traditions is largely a matter of personal preference. Finns certainly don’t spend the holiday without a relaxing sauna bath or a traditional Christmas meal.

Christmas food is nevertheless another issue that tends to divide Finnish opinion into various camps. Some are especially fond of the fish banquet offered frequently as starters. It offers a taste sensation that’s hard to beat when paired with sweet rye loaf and potatoes. For others, however, the taste experience that best represents Christmas is the warm main course, which includes rosolli beetroot salad as well as the traditional rutabaga and potato casseroles accompanied by the Christmas ham. During the long Yuletide, everyone is also allowed to enjoy chocolates, green pear marmalade sweets, delicious plum tarts and mulled wine. If you still haven’t broken a sweat after all of this, surely the sauna will do it for you!

Delicious cheese and design knives by Hackman

The Christmas sauna bath is associated with ancient Finnish yule ceremonies. The most eclectic types are old wood and smoke saunas, whose only source of light is provided by candle lanterns and the glimmer of radiant fire from the sauna stove. The genuinely Finnish spa concept of sauna bathing still offers the opportunity to ice swimming or cooling off by rolling in the snow.

Finns who want the perfect sauna experience at Christmas will dry or freeze sauna birch whisks already during the summer for the purpose. This conjures up an aromatic breath of summer in the steamy sauna in the middle of winter. The Finnish Rento brand offers dried birch and eucalyptus whisks for the Christmas cleansing rituals, as well as a wide range of relaxing sauna fragrances and other provisions for people who didn’t prepare them during summer.

Traditional birch whisk and Rento Sauna bucket

At Christmas, Finland is closed. The streets and shops are quiet even in the big cities. Although Christmas is no longer regarded as a very church-oriented festivity, many Finns still attend twilight church services and visit cemeteries. These places have their own particularly delicate atmosphere at Christmastime, when the most beautiful carols are performed and a sea of candles illuminates the silvery whiteness of the churchyards. It is time to settle down and take a break – because after Boxing Day, the Christmas tribe gets busy again!