Saturday 10/31/20

What are the Finnish Christmas traditions?

Christmas food, sweets, sauna and celebrations: if you live in Finland or you are planning to travel at this time of year, we tell you how to make the most of these special dates.

Santa-claus-joulupukki-elves
Santa Claus and the elves enjoying snow in Lapland. Photo: Visit Rovaniemi.

The homeland of Santa Claus (Joulupukki in Finnish) is full of traditions during this time of the year. The visit of the main character of Christmas and the gifts he gives out are the central part of this festivity, but there are other typical parts to discover.

The 24th December starts with the declaration of Christmas Peace. This ceremony with live music is held at the Brinkkala Mansion in the centre of Turku.

This tradition is celebrated at 12 o'clock and broadcasted on television for people who can't attend it. From the terrace of the building, the chief of protocol declares the peace during this festivity and remembers that any crime committed will be punished.

Going to the sauna is also a tradition during this time, although Finns go there at any time of the year. It has its own name: Joulusauna (Christmas sauna). It is basically the same as an average sauna, but taken in Christmas. The most important thing is to have a great time with the whole family, men and women, together or not.

candle-window-christmas-by-Pablo-MorillaTypical window decoration in Finnish homes. Photo: Pablo Morilla.

Another Finnish tradition comes from Oulu and its name is Tiernapojat (Star Boys in English). It started on the 19th century as a way for kids to earn some money going from door to door, according to the Tierna Foundation.

Four children tell the biblical story of the Three Wise Men with participation of the King Herod. Nowadays there is even a competition in Oulu to see who makes the best performance, which requires not only an excellent costume or being an outstanding actor, but also great skills singing.

Decoration and food

Talking about Christmas decoration, there are not too many differences between Finland and the rest of the world. However, there is a special ornament called himmeli. Originally made of straw, it is a symmetrical figure that Finns hang in their kitchen or living room at Christmas.

Himmeli.-Photo-by-Pablo-MorillaHimmeli. Photo: Pablo Morilla.

During Christmas Eve or the previous days, cemeteries all around Finland get crowded of people visiting their relatives who can't stay with them on this festivity. It is a Christmas tradition to go there and leave some flowers and candles.  When it is already dark, those hundreds of tiny lights create a magical scenery.

Dinner table is also full of traditional food on Christmas Eve. The king of the night is Joulukinkku, a piece of ham covered with a mixture of mustard and breadcrumb. Simple, but delicious.

Finnish Joululaatikot (casseroles, usually done with mashed tubers) are typically eaten at this time of the year. It can be made with potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, etc. Another popular dish is rosolli, a salad that includes potatoes, beetroot, carrots or onions.

Christmas sweets

Sweets are also present on Christmas. The day starts with Joulupuuro (Rice pudding). When it is cooked, one almond is included and the one who gets it will be lucky next year.

If you are a newcomer in Finland, you should also taste Joulutorttu, a star-shaped tart made of puff pastry and usually filled with prune jam.

Joulutorttu-by-Pablo-MorillaTypical Finnish Joulutorttu. Photo: Pablo Morilla.

Gingerbread, known in Finland as Piparkakku or Joulupiparit, is also easy to find anywhere in the country during these days. Finally, you don't have to forget drinking glögi, mulled wine also served in Finland with almonds or raisins.

*Pablo Morilla is a journalist, author of the blog Michan en Finlandia.

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