In Finland, the first Sunday in December is called the First Advent, and marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Advent calendars help count down the days to Christmas Eve.
Shortly after on December 13th is St. Lucia Day, named for a 3rd century martyr who Brough food to Christians in hiding. She used a candle-lit wreath to light her way, leaving her hands free to carry as much food as possible. Celebrated with candles. The oldest girl in the family portrays St. Lucia, wearing a white robe and a crown of candles. She serves her parents buns, cookies coffee, or wine. Around this time, Finns begin shopping for a Christmas tree to decorate, and start to exchange Christmas cards.
Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, lives in the northern part of Finland called Korvatunturi, or Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle. People from all over the world send letters to Santa Claus in Finland. There’s even a theme park called Christmas Land in the north of Finland, close to where Santa is said to live.
Santa Claus may also be called Joulupukki, which means Christmas Goat. In old Finland tradition, there was a Yule Goat who would ask for presents, rather than give them. Eventually the goat became the gift giver, and Santa usurped this role, but the name Christmas Goat remained. Santa rides in his reindeer sleigh, leaving gifts for good children under the Christmas tree, and leaving coal for the naughty children.
Everyone tries to be home for Christmas, including fishermen, who try to get their boats to harbor for December 21st, St. Thomas’ day. Farmers will sometimes hang a sheaf of wheat, along with bags of nuts and pieces of suet, on the branches of trees to be eaten by the birds.
Because it gets very dark early in the day around Christmas in many parts in Finland (around 3PM), it’s a tradition to go to cemeteries to visit the graves of family members. Some cemeteries are so large, there are police on duty just to manage the traffic, and everyone must walk to last few yards to the grave. Glowing lanterns left around the graves light up the cemetery.
Others like to visit saunas on Christmas Eve.
The main Christmas meal is eaten in the early evening. Lutefish, or salt fish, is a traditional first course. The main course is a leg of pork served with mashed potatoes, baked slowly in birch-bark boxes with similarly cooked mashed swede. Other common Christmas dishes include casseroles made of different vegetables like rutabaga, carrot, and potato, cured salmon and turkey, and beetroot salad. Dessert is rice pudding and porridge eating with spiced plum jam. One almond is hidden in the pudding, and whoever finds it will be lucky in the new year.
After the meal, Santa arrives, and it’s time to open presents. The whole family gathers to watch the fun. Christmas Day is much quieter, usually spent together with family. The Christmas season does not officially end until after January 6th, or Epiphany.
Holiday Traditions in Finland
Video by Cat Peterson