Despite the modern times we live in, Christmas in Finland is all about traditions that have been passed down through generations. Unlike most Christian countries where Christmas Day, December 25th, is the primary day of the Christmas celebrations, Finnish families traditionally gather together for festivities on Christmas Eve, December 24th.
It’s also the day when the most famous person living in Finland, Santa Claus, visits well-behaved Finnish children with his sleigh full of Christmas presents.
What else happens in Finnish homes on Christmas Eve each year? Let’s take a little sneak peek into a traditional Christmas in Finland.
Christmas preparations; the lights, the decorations, the flavours
Setting the Christmas spirit begins earlier each year. Christmas carols take over shop aisles, Christmas lights illuminate the darkening streets, millions of Christmas cards are sent to friends and family members, Christmas Markets are held, and sing-along Christmas concerts are organised all over Finland. Soon the approaching holiday season is visible in Finnish homes, too; colourful Christmas lights illuminate the gardens together with candles and ice lanterns, and the houses will be decorated with Santa’s Elves, reindeers, wreaths and Finns’ favourite Christmas flowers, poinsettia and hyacinth. With the delicious smell of gingerbread cookies and Christmas tarts floating in the air, Christmas Eve can finally arrive.
Bringing in and decorating the Christmas tree
Bringing in and decorating the Christmas tree is one of the oldest Finnish Christmas traditions that has remained almost unchanged since the 1800s. This year approximately 1,5 million Christmas trees will adorn Finnish households all over the country. For many Finnish families decorating the Christmas tree is the first thing to do in the morning of Christmas Eve as an official beginning of the best day of the year (especially if you ask children). The Christmas tree is often placed in front of a window to spread joy and Christmas spirit also among the people passing by.
Enjoying a hot bowl of Christmas porridge – but who will find the almond?
Another Finnish Christmas tradition dating back to the 1800s is Christmas porridge, traditionally made of rice and milk. Typically Christmas porridge is served with sugar, cinnamon and milk but can also be enjoyed with prunes, apricots or cloudberries. This traditional Christmas Eve breakfast includes one special ingredient: an almond. According to the tradition, good luck will follow the person finding the almond on their plate.
The Declaration of Christmas Peace
At noon on Christmas Eve, the whole of Finland freezes when Christmas Peace is declared in several Finnish cities. The most popular and well-known event takes place at the Old Great Square in Turku where thousands of Finns gather to listen to the declaration every year. The ones who can’t make it to the gathering may follow the live broadcast on television or radio. This is the moment when the whole of Finland truly gets peaceful; shops will close their doors, and even the public transport gets quieter. Some shops will be shut throughout Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which is good to remember when spending your first Christmas in Finland.
Honouring the deceased
Another Finnish Christmas Eve tradition is to pay a visit to the graveyard and light candles on the graves of the past loved ones. At Christmas, all cemeteries from North to South are illuminated with thousands and thousands of candles. The stunning sea of candles in the dark December night is a sight not to miss.
Christmas sauna – a tradition truly unique to Finland
Christmas sauna is another ancient Christmas tradition Finns aren’t willing to forget. According to some studies, 80 per cent of all Finns go to the sauna on Christmas Eve. Some even state that the lack of Christmas Sauna might ruin the whole holiday. In some families, the sauna is heated up twice during the day; first before dinner and again late at night.
There’s no meal like Christmas dinner
After (the first) Christmas Sauna, it’s time for another Christmas Eve highlight; the dinner. Finns value traditional Christmas food with slowly-roasted ham being the king of the dinner table. Even if a vegetarian diet is becoming more and more popular, Finns still consume 6-7 million kilos of ham over Christmas. Besides the Christmas ham, also potatoes, casseroles, meatballs, fish and mixed beetroot salad are included in the traditional Christmas dinner – not to forget chocolate, Christmas pastries and gingerbread cookies, of course.
‘Are there any well-behaved children in the house?’
Tummies full of Christmas treats, it’s finally time to gather around the fireplace, relax on the sofa and enjoy some glögi, a traditional hot Christmas drink similar to Mulled Wine.
Suddenly, a gentle knock on the door breaks the silence. It’s followed by a sentence familiar to all kids in Finland; ‘Are there any well-behaved children in the house?’
Who else could it be but Santa, the most awaited Christmas guest in all families worldwide and the one final highlight of a memorable Christmas in Finland.
Did you know that more than 300,000 tourists travel to Finland in December? Find the perfect rental cottage on Gofinland and start planning your white Christmas in Finnish Lapland now.