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Christmas

Christmas 2017 and 2018

In Finland, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Saint Stephen’s Day (December 26th) are all significant days of the season. Many Finns will take off December 24th through January 1st to spend time with family celebrating, and children will be off school during this period as well.

YearDateDayHoliday
201725 DecMonChristmas Day
26 DecTue2nd Day of Christmas
201825 DecTueChristmas Day
26 DecWed2nd Day of Christmas

The biggest day of the season, in Finland, is not Christmas Day but Christmas Eve. By early afternoon on Christmas Eve, most shops and other businesses will shut down, and public transport will even be hard to find.

Virtually the whole nation will be busily preparing for the evening’s Christmas celebration. They will put up and decorate their Christmas trees, which are never put up early except in department stores and are not normally bought more than a day in advance. Many Fins also attend special church services on Christmas Eve, but once home again, they will be finishing up preparations for the season’s festive meal.

Christmas Eve dinner will be spent with family and normally consist of such dishes as baked ham, rutabaga casserole, beetroot salad, smoked salmon, caviar, herring fish, and liver. The birds will also be given some Christmas food, for Finns often hang heads of wheat, nuts, and other edibles from tree branches this time of year.

Sometime during the evening, the Biblical Christmas Story, from Luke’s Gospel, will likely be read. The youngest child who knows how to read normally is assigned the role. After dinner, “Joulupukki,” the Finnish version of Old Saint Nick, arrives and places presents under the Christmas tree. The name “Joulupukki” is literally rendered “Christmas Goat.” This is because a goat used to frighten people and demand they hand over their presents in earlier Finnish Christmas tradition, but then Joulupukki had a change of heart and started giving out presents instead. He never lost his original name, however. He does have reindeer, nowadays, like the Santa of other Western lands, and he does bring bags of coal to those deemed “naughty.”

On Christmas Day, most people just relax at home and recover from the previous night’s business. Others, however, get up early, attend Christmas morning church services, and rest at home later. On December 26th, Saint Stephen’s Day, people visit relatives, maybe even some who live far away or whom they have not seen for some time. It is also common to go ice skating or skiing on Saint Stephen’s Day.

Some things to do should you be in Finland for Christmas include:

  • Visit Turku, which was the capital of Finland before it was moved to Helsinki. There, you can witness the declaration of “Christmas Peace” at noon on Christmas Eve. Listeners are instructed to be at peace with each other and avoid “rowdy behaviour” during the next 20 days. You can also hear the declaration on radio or TV, and almost everyone in Finland will tune in.
  • Get a look at a Finnish cemetery during the afternoon or evening on Christmas Eve. It is dark in Finland by 3pm this time of year, and many people light candles on the graves of deceased loved ones. It is quite a sight to see the whole graveyard lit up for Christmas.
  • Do what many Finns do this time of year and get a Christmas Eve sauna treatment. This has been a tradition in Finland since ancient times, and the cold weather has kept it as popular as ever through all those years.
  • Visit a horse farm or riding school, where sleigh rides and horse races are often held on December 26th. This stems from a Medieval tradition of racing home from church after Saint Stephen’s services.
  • Tour “Christmas Land,” in north Finland, where Santa Claus is said to live. While this is in competition with the North Pole theory, millions send letters to him in Lapland, and many tourists come to the Christmas Land theme park every year.

Finland has some very unique Christmas traditions and many annual events and activities that tourist will enjoy learning and taking part in.