Christmas in Finland is a magical time of year, with snow-covered landscapes, cozy candlelit homes, and festive traditions that create a truly enchanting atmosphere. The Finns celebrate the holiday season with a blend of old customs and modern touches, from the deeply rooted rituals to family gatherings and sumptuous feasts. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey through Finnish Christmas traditions, decorations, and culinary delights.
Finnish Christmas Traditions
One of the most cherished Finnish Christmas traditions is the Christmas sauna. Traditionally, families would heat their saunas on Christmas Eve, and it was believed that the spirits of the ancestors would visit the sauna during this time. Today, the Christmas sauna remains an essential part of the festivities, providing a moment of relaxation and bonding with family members.
Joulupukki – The Finnish Santa Claus
The Finnish version of Santa Claus, Joulupukki, is said to reside in Korvatunturi, Lapland. Joulupukki is known for being a kind and gentle figure who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Unlike the traditional Santa Claus, Joulupukki is often depicted wearing warm, red, and woolen clothes and traveling with a team of reindeer.
Pikkujoulu – Little Christmas
Pikkujoulu, or Little Christmas, is a pre-Christmas celebration held throughout Finland during the weeks leading up to the main event. Friends, family members, and colleagues gather for parties, which often involve festive food, drinks, and fun activities.
Like many countries, Finland also decorates Christmas trees. Typically, families will choose a tree together and adorn it with lights, baubles, and ornaments. Finnish Christmas tree decorations often feature traditional elements, such as straw goats and wooden dolls.
Advent calendars are a popular way for Finns to count down the days until Christmas. These calendars usually have 24 little doors, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Eve. Behind each door, there is a small treat or surprise, adding a touch of excitement to the daily countdown.
Himmeli – Traditional Finnish Ornaments
Himmeli are traditional Finnish ornaments made from straw and are commonly used to decorate homes during the holiday season. These intricate, geometric designs are hung from the ceiling or placed on tables as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune.
Christmas Food in Finland
A central part of the Finnish Christmas meal is the Christmas ham, or “joulukinkku.” This dish is typically made from a cured and smoked pork leg, which is then slow-roasted in the oven until tender and flavorful. It’s often glazed with a mixture of mustard and breadcrumbs, providing a deliciously crispy crust.
Lanttulaatikko – Rutabaga Casserole
Lanttulaatikko is a traditional Finnish casserole made from rutabaga (swede), which is mashed and mixed with breadcrumbs, cream, and spices. This hearty dish is a staple on Finnish Christmas tables and is often served alongside the Christmas ham.
Karelian pies, or “karjalanpiirakat,” are small pastries made with a thin rye crust and filled with rice porridge or mashed potatoes. These delectable treats are typically served with “egg butter,” a mixture of boiled eggs and butter, and are a favorite snack during the Christmas season.
Gingerbread cookies, or “piparkakut,” are a beloved Finnish Christmas treat. Families often spend time together baking and decorating these spiced cookies in various shapes and sizes, such as stars, hearts, and animals.
Celebrating Christmas Eve in Finland
For many Finns, attending church on Christmas Eve is an important part of the holiday tradition. In the evening, families will gather at their local church for a special service, which often includes the singing of Christmas carols and the reading of the nativity story.
Visiting the Graves of Loved Ones
Another heartfelt tradition in Finland is to visit the graves of deceased family members on Christmas Eve. People will light candles and place them on the graves as a way of remembering their loved ones during this special time of year.
Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day
Christmas Day in Finland is typically reserved for relaxation and spending time with family. It’s common to enjoy a leisurely breakfast followed by a walk outside to enjoy the snowy landscape. On December 26th, Finns celebrate St. Stephen’s Day, which is often marked by more festive gatherings with friends and family.
New Year’s Eve and Epiphany
The holiday season in Finland extends beyond Christmas, with celebrations continuing on New Year’s Eve and Epiphany. On New Year’s Eve, fireworks and festivities fill the streets, while Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th, marks the end of the Christmas season with various customs and traditions, such as the “Star Boys” procession in some parts of the country.
Christmas in Finland is a time of joy, warmth, and togetherness. The unique blend of old and new customs, combined with the magical winter landscapes, makes for a truly unforgettable holiday experience. Whether you’re sampling the delicious traditional foods, relaxing in the Christmas sauna, or exploring the snow-covered countryside, there’s no doubt that a Finnish Christmas is a celebration to cherish.