Christmas is an important time for us to rest and spend time with our friends and family. It’s one of the most important holidays for Finns, I might say. People usually take at least a couple days off and many travel during that time. Usually to spend Christmas with relatives or to be somewhere northern to surely have snow on Christmas eve.
The tradition of a Finnish Christmas is, among other things, to give the gifts on Christmas eve, on the 24th of December. The eve is the most important day overall, usually. Of course the traditions vary in different families and yearly, due to work, for example. So, I speak from my own experiences and on the base what I’ve heard from other Finns.
Traditionally the 24th day starts with rice porridge and cinnamon. Sometimes we hide one almond in the porridge. It depends on the family what is the result of finding the almond. Sometimes it means that the one finding it can open one present or s/he has to sing a Christmas song. At our grandparents it means that the one finding the almond must do the dishes. So oddly, sometimes the almond is left undiscovered.
As Christmas is a religious celebration, many Finns go to Christmas church on the 24th. Usually in the morning, sometimes during the day or at least to light the candles on the family graves. Many go to church’s events to sing Christmas songs before the eve as well.
The day is usually full of waiting and preparations for the night. Children’s task is to decorate the Christmas tree. Some do this before the eve though. We tend to dress up a bit fancy for the eve’s dinner. The traditional main dish is ham or turkey and different casseroles. In addition to these there are other food as well. In our family we eat lamb, fish and loaf. My personal favorite is roe, sour cream and red onion. For dessert we usually have cheese and fruits. As Finns tend to drink on the celebrations, it’s normal to have at least mild drunkenness from the wine and dessert drinks.
If you have your own sauna, it’s normal to go to the Christmas sauna, naturally. If Santa Claus didn’t bring the gifts during the night between 23th and 24th, it’s expected to happen before the night of the 24th. It’s very common that families have a Santa visiting every year, especially in families with small children. Usually the Santa is the same person every year, someone who happens to be away every time Santa visits. Some people hold on this tradition even when the children have grown up and everyone already knows who plays the Santa’s role.
The most awaited part is to give and get presents. It happens usually after dinner and lasts approximately one hour. The older I have grown the more joy I get of giving presents and from the time together with my family. And good food, of course. The 25th is a very laid-back day to spend with the family as well. We usually play board games and children play with their new toys. The food on the 25th is leftovers from the eve and of course all the chocolate and other delicacies all around the house. Additionally, one tradition many young people have is to go out with friends on the night of the 25th.
The nature of Finland is one of my favorite things. Here we have something that every other country doesn’t – the variation with the seasons and the variability in the nature between the south and north. One upside in particular, to my mind, is the big size, tranquility and purity of most of our forests. We have our problems in Finland as well, of course, as clearcuttings. Still, overall, I think our nature is in good condition and there are good laws to protect the animals. When I was a kid and we lived in the countryside, I got to see a lot of animals while playing outside, mooses and foxes for example.
Nowadays, walking in the forest or going to a cabin in the wilderness is an important way for many people to lower the stress caused by hectic work and school life. Even more than before, I think. Nature comes in the first priorities for many Finns.
Again speaking from own experiences, I really enjoy the nature of Lapland and Central Finland. The following pictures are from Central Finland, Hyrynsalmi from last summer. It’s the place for yearly Swamp Soccer World Championships, Suopotkupallo. Speaking of which, that is an event which wraps up a lot of Finnish culture. People playing football in a swamp in the middle of nowhere, usually drunk every day of the tournament. However, one of the very best parts of the yearly Swamp Soccer is to watch the sunrise at the lake after the tournament.