Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Finnish Christmas

There are a lot of traditions associated with Christmas in Finland.  In this post you'll get acquainted with several of them.  In Helsinki there is the traditional Christmas parade and street lighting that we showed on an earlier post.

Dec. 6 is Finnish Independence Day.  On that night it has been tradition to light two candles in each window in memory of those who have died defending Finland's independence..  It is quite an impressive sight to see several buildings together with candles in every window. The tradition is not as generally followed now as it was when I was in Finland 45 years ago.  These days most apartments will have something - a large star light or a 7 candle Christmas tree seem to be quite popular - in at least one window.  There are a lot of dark windows, however. The lights will stay on display until New Year's Day.

Many office buildings still display two lit candles in each window
from Independence Day until New Year's Day.
Christmas Eve is the center of the Christmas celebration in Finland.  There are several Christmas traditions that are generally observed: The celebration either begins or ends with a visit to the cemetery.  Lit candles are left on the graves of family members.  We drove by this cemetery at mid-day and there were quite a few people in it.  We stopped by at 9:00 pm and there were still a number of people in the cemetery, with more arriving as we left.

Row upon row of candles is an impressive display hearts turned to the fathers.
These are the children of Isto and Elina Felin.  They are Juda,
Riki, Iris, and ???  They haven\t chosen a name for the baby yet.
We got to spend Christmas Eve with the Felin family, and enjoy
these sweet children.

The Christmas tree is a part of the Finnish celebration.  Traditionally it was brought home and decorated on Christmas Eve, although many homes decorate the tree from a few days to a week or more before the holiday.

The Felin's tree is on their back deck, where
it is visible from the living room, but will stay
Joulupukki or Christmas goat, is the Finnish
Santa Claus.  He is an old man, and comes
with gifts on Christmas Eve.

The sauna (pronounced sowna, not sawna) is clearly identified with Finland.  Almost everyone visits the sauna at least once a week and many go three or more times a week.  Almost every private home has a sauna and many apartments have their own saunas.  If that is not the case then each apartment building will have one or more saunas.  In the Felin's apartment building there are two saunas.  Normally each apartment will have its own sauna turn each week.  But on Christmas Eve the saunas were open from noon to six for anyone to use - one for women and the other for men.  Our celebration began with a visit to the sauna.

After our sauna I was really relaaaaxed, as this picture shows.
A Finish Christmas Eve dinner will usually include some graved lox or smoked salmon, a baked ham, carrot and rutabaga casseroles, a mushroom cream salad.  Our dinner was in two courses.  These pictures show the first course, after which we were so full that we barely made a dent on the second course.  Anne and I skipped the dessert course, which gives you an idea of how full I was.

We enjoyed this delcisious green salad, smoked salmon, graved (spiced) lox,
and salmon sashimi.
There was also salmon sushi roll, this very attractive vegetable salad,
and regular lox.
We even had salmon caviar!
Moose meat added to the delicadies we enjoyed.

I didn't even get pictures of the second course, but you can get a good idea from the first course about how delicious and extensive it was.

We also missed the dessert course which included riisi puuro, Christmas star pastries, and Anne's chocolate silk pie (not part of the traditional Finnish celebration).

After dinner the family joined in singing Christmas songs and in putting on a nativity, similar to what we do at home.

Juda was the angel, Iris was Mary and Riki was Joseph.

In the traditional Finnish celebration Joulupukki comes on Christmas Eve while the children are still awake and passes out the gifts.  We left shortly after Joulupukki's visit and I don't know how Isto and Elina ever got the children to go to bed.  It was a lot of fun and reminded us of our own family at home.

Joulupukki pays a visit to the children!

As mentioned we stopped by the cemetery on the way home and then got to bed at about 10:00.  We got up at 4:00 AM so we could FaceTime with our family in California who had gathered at our home for Christmas Eve dinner.  We also got to Facetime with our Idaho and Texas families later in the day.

This was the nativity scene we saw on FaceTime with some of our grandchildren.

All in all it was a wonderful Christmas for us here in Finland.  On Christmas Day we had two of the sister missionaries over for dinner with a non-member friend, two of our young adults (one from Estonia and one from Viet Nam), and a recent convert.  The sisters were able to Skype home while the rest of us played some games.

We hoped that you all enjoyed as happy a Christmas as we did.


  1. Thanks for sharing, and for serving! Feliz Año nuevo! Or better yet, Onnellista uutta vuotta!

  2. People in colder climates sure have a pulse on health. A sauna (sowna) in every home seems like a complete luxury in comparison to where I live (Idaho, USA). We normally have to have a heck of a BBQ to justify heating up the hot tub. A diet rich in salty seafood and good fats, followed by a few hours surrounded by steam, sounds like Heaven. It's easy to see how Finnish people stay so healthy and attractive.

    Ronni Casillas @ JNH Life Styles