New Year’s Day. January 1. New Year’s celebrations are huge and celebrated in larger-than-life fashion. Cities and towns and organizations will hold their own fireworks displays. Some people choose to celebrate at home, but others attend huge New Year’s parties held in bars, clubs, or restaurants; or even gala New Year’s balls. Some of the informal parties may include smörgåsborg of simple hot and cold dishes and desserts accompanied by tea and coffee (yes, please. I’ve traditionally served Brazilian feijoada on New Year’s Eve, but I may try smörgåsborg this year.). Champagne toasts are common at the strike of midnight. Large crowds gather in Senate Square in Helsinki to bring in the New Year. One tradition is the casting of the tin. People will get a small piece of tin and have it melted and cast in the shape of a horseshoe, a symbol of good luck. And of course, there are a lot of “predict the future” superstitions that are said and adhered to as well.
Epiphany. January 6. This is the day that Western Christians often attribute to as the day when the Three Wisemen (or Magi) visited the baby Jesus. Other Christians celebrate this day as the day Jesus was baptized and the marking of Jesus’ first miracle during the wedding at Cana. Churches may hold special services or events for this day.
Good Friday/Easter/Easter Monday. Varies. In Finland, Good Friday is extremely solemn. Traditionally, many activities were banned on Good Friday (although it’s somewhat relaxed a little these days): you didn’t visit friends or laugh too much or dance; lighting a fire to cook was forbidden too, so you would make a lot of food the day before to last for a few days. Holy Saturday used to be thought of as the day that witches would come down from the mountains, so bonfires would be lit to ward them off. Easter Sunday starts off with Easter egg hunts for the children. Instead of the Easter bunny leaving chocolate eggs, they believe a cockerel [a young rooster] leaves the eggs instead (which sort of makes more sense than a rabbit).
May Day. May 1. May Day in Finland is related to the pagan celebration Walpurgis, also seen as a spring holiday. And for those who love calm and quiet, this holiday may not be for you. The night before, people head to pubs and restaurants, bringing the party aura with them to the streets. Wild hats and masks are donned, along with balloons, pom-poms, noisemakers, and horns. It’s almost like a Finnish Carnival. And of course, there’s always my old friend and enemy: alcohol. Pickled herrings and fritters are commonly eaten on May Day. This day is doubly celebrated as Labor Day, a day to celebrate the worker.
Ascension Day. Varies. This is the day Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven after being resurrected. The day falls 40 days after Easter. Some churches hold a special service to formally extinguish the Pascal Candle (or Easter Candle). Some churches even bless fruits and vegetables on this day.
Pentecost. Varies. Also called Whitsunday, this day is 50 days after Easter, or 10 days after Ascension. This day marks the end of the Easter season and is celebrated as the day that the Holy Spirit presented itself to the disciples. It’s also a common day for baptisms. In some areas of Finland (as well as Estonia), eggs are also dyed at Pentecost, because hens often don’t lay their eggs until around this time.
Midsummer Eve/Midsummer Day. Varies. This holiday is a celebration of the hopes for a good harvest and for light (the farther north you go, the sun doesn’t set in the summer at all). Since the old days, bonfires were lit the night before to ward off the evil spirits and to hope for good crops. People will set up their outdoor parties around these bonfires, including dancing and eating. The Midnight Sun myth is often retold: a young maiden picked seven flowers on the longest day of the year and put them under her pillow, and when she slept, her future husband showed up in her dreams. And everyone takes the traditional swim at night in the lake or sea. This holiday has now been moved to the Saturday that falls between June 20 and June 26. It’s not an official holiday, but it’s very important to the people of Finland.
All Saint’s Day. Varies. Traditionally, this has been a feast day honoring all of the saints. It’s also treated as a day to visit the gravesites of loved ones and to take care of the grave. Normally held on November 1, it has been moved to the Saturday that falls between October 31 and November 6.
Independence Day. December 6. This day celebrates Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia in 1917. The day starts with the official raising of the Finnish flag at Tähtitorninmäki in Helsinki as everyone else displays their own flags around their home. A large presidential reception, held at the Presidential Palace with nearly two thousand guests, is broadcast on television. People will also visit war memorials if they can, or watch the TV broadcast of the movie The Unknown Soldier. Family and friends gather together to share traditional foods.
Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. December 24-25. Lapland in northern Finland is known for their reindeer, so it comes as no surprise that Finnish children know Santa Claus must be a Finn. It’s said that he descends from the top of Mt. Korvatunturi near the town of Savukoski. And of course, they know that Finnish children are the first to receive their gifts on Christmas Eve. For the few weeks before hand, families will decorate their homes, make all kinds of desserts and savory treats. One tradition takes place in the city of Turku; the Declaration of Peace is read just after the cathedral bell strikes noon. After lunch on Christmas Eve, many people head out to the sauna in the afternoon. Dinner is a selection of roast or pork, vegetables, sweets, rice pudding, and mulled wine. Gifts are handed out on Christmas Eve (a tradition we adopted in my family so that the grown-ups can sleep in Christmas morning), and Christmas Day is spent at home with family.
St. Stephen’s Day. December 26. St. Stephen is the first Christian martyr. One tradition on this day is to take sleigh rides drawn by horses through the streets. An older tradition is having parades for the forthcoming brides, which is why it was also a popular day to be married. Now, there are dances held at restaurants and dance halls as a modern continuation of that tradition.
Every Sunday. All Sundays are considered official holidays but not so important as the others. When the government reduced the workweek to 40 hours per week, Saturdays were also considered a quasi-holiday as well. Shops can be open on Sunday, but usually on a shorter schedule (from noon to 6pm or so). Finland also has a number of Flag Days, a sort of de facto holiday where you display the flag.
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