Finnish Christmas Traditions


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Finnish Christmas Traditions

  1. 1. TRADITIONAL FINNISH CHRISTMASThe Viking heritageIn the pre-Christian Nordic countries, it was a custom tocelebrate the "return of the light" in time of the wintersolstice in December, which marked the beginning of longerdays.Vikings celebrated the coming of the sun by sacrificing fortheir gods, eating and drinking well, playing games, burningbonfires and exchanging gifts during a three-day feast.The celebrations had many elements that are still common inthe modern Nordic Christmas celebration.The Swedish, Norwegian and Danish word for Christmas,jul, the Icelandic jól, the Finnish joulu and the Estonian jõulall have their origin in the old Viking word hjul, meaning "sun wheel". After Christianity reached Finland in the 12th century, the old Nordic traditions and habits began to assimilate with Christian Christmas celebration. These preserved habits include food traditions, such like eating ham from pagan times and lutefisk during fast days from the Roman Catholic time. Picture on left: Finnish Christmas treats from the 19th century (Helsinki City Museum - Burghers House) The Protestant reformation started by the Germanmonk and theologian Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) also affected Sweden and Finland from ca1520 on, and the Christmas traditions changed once more. Many Catholic religious symbols, likenativity scenes, were banned. However, nowadays they have become increasingly popular againamong the Finnish Lutherans.Family Christmas in FinlandLike in many other countries, Christmas traditions in Finland are centered on the home andfamily. The sense of warmth of the family home and the merriment of the season are accentuatedamidst the harsh reality of a far north winter.The celebration of Christmas occurs from December 24th to the 26th. Several weeks before
  2. 2. hand, during the advent season, homes are prepared, cookies are baked, and decorations aremade ready.Christmas traditions in Finland have become known to over 140 countries largely because of atraditional event that has occurred every year, save one, since the mid 1300s. In the city ofTurku, in southern Finland, the people gather just before noon. After the Turku Cathedral Bellstrikes twelve, the Declaration of Christmas Peace is read. The Declaration of Christmas Peace“Tomorrow, God willing, is the graceful celebration of the birth of our Lordand Savior; and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advisingdevotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully,because he who breaks this peace and violates the peace of Christmas by anyillegal or improper behavior shall under aggravating circumstances be guiltyand punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each andevery offence separately.”Finally, a joyous Christmas feast is wished to all inhabitants of the city.This Finnish Christmas tradition is so famous that it is broadcast over all the air waves and TV.The ceremony ends with a flourish as the trumpets play the National Anthem.Santa ClausFinland is the home of Santa, and every Finnish child knows that Santa lives on the Mountain ofKorvatunturi in the town of Savukoski (although many other countries insist that Santa Clauslives on the North Pole). This town is in the northern section of Finland called Lapland. Thereare many many reindeer in Lapland and, after all, Why wouldnt Santa live where his reindeerare?By Christmas Eve morning, the children are all awash with excitement for they know thatFinland is the first country on the list of Santas stops. As a matter of fact, he stops there onChristmas Eve with gifts for everyone. CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS Finnish homes are decorated with different kinds of Christmassy ornaments: decorated wreaths on doors and lit paper stars or Christmas lights of various designs and shapes hung in windows. Among the decorations, there may be the traditional Nordic billy-goat made of straw, coming in various sizes, or small statuettes representing Christmas gnomes or elves, angels, reindeer, snowmen. Festive tablecloths and decorative textiles are laid out or hung on walls. The
  3. 3. colours most often associated with Finnish Christmas are warm red, warm green or pure white,perhaps enriched with a tinge of gold, silver, copper, etc. Also tartan fabrics with Christmassycolours are popular, for example in the form of ribbons and bows decorating the Christmaspresents.And since it is the darkest season of the year, candles and tealightsare burnt to bring light and warmth in the middle of winter. Manytypes of lanterns and outdoor candles may be seen lit in gardens,yards and balconies and also trees or bushes in gardens and parks may be decorated with tiny Christmas lights. Himmeli, a traditional, old Finnish Christmas ornament, may be hung from the ceiling in some homes. It is made of short strips of straw tied together with strings to form a complex three-dimensional structure. Picture on left: a traditional Finnish himmeli. In the old days, the himmeli was hung above the dinner table to ensure that the coming rye crop would be plentiful. There are many different shapesand sizes of himmeli: the bigger the size, the larger the rye crop would be.Christmas tree Decorated Christmas trees became popular in Finland towards the end of the 19th century, although the habit of erecting festive trees is known to have been common already long before this in the Nordic countries. Christmas trees are spruces, usually decorated with (nowadays electric) candles or lights, silver or golden ribbons, coloured glass balls and a multitude of other kinds of ornaments. Typically, a silver or golden star is placed at the top of the tree. Traditionally, the tree is brought in and decorated on Christmas Eve morning. However, nowadays many people like to buy and decorate their tree as early as about a week before Christmas.
  4. 4. FINNISH CHRISTMAS DINNER In Finland, the Christmas dinner is eaten on the Christmas Eve, December 24th. Families and friends gather together to share the warm, festive atmosphere of the evening and enjoy the various traditional Christmas dishes. Oven-baked ham, root vegetable casseroles, mixed beetroot salad, liver casserole and pâtés, meat aspics, smoked salmon, fish roe and herring dishes form the basis of the traditional Finnish Christmas dinner. Perhaps the three most essential dishes on Finnish Christmas table are oven-baked ham, rutabaga casserole and mixed beetroot salad. Without the taste of these traditional dishes, there would be something missing in Finnish Christmas celebration. This basic Christmas dinner menu is of course enriched with all kinds of supplementary dishes in different families, according totheir individual liking, traditions or diets.TRADITIONAL FINNISH CHRISTMAS RECIPESRUTABAGA CASSEROLEUse a large, sturdy knife and watch your fingers when cutting uprutabaga, since it is a rather hard-textured vegetable. It is best to cut itin thick slices, and then remove the peel with a paring knife or avegetable peeler.enough fresh rutabagas to get 1 kg puree (see instructions below)½ tsp salt150 ml dark molasses2 tbsp flour1 - 2 eggs150 ml creamThickly slice and peel the rutabaga(s). Cut the slices in chunky pieces. Cook the pieces inunsalted water until almost tender. Pour out the cooking water. Place the uncovered pan back tothe warm stove plate, so that the excess moisture will evaporate, and the rutabaga feels dry.Push the rutabaga through a food mill to get about 1 kilogram of smooth puree. Let the pureecool a bit, and then mix in the salt, molasses, flour, eggs and half of the cream. Whip the rest of
  5. 5. the cream and gently fold it in. Pour the runny batter into one or two buttered oven casseroles.Sprinkle the surface with a thin layer of dry breadcrumbs and decorate it by pressing littlebumps on it with the tip of a spoon. Dot the surface generously with pats of butter.Bake the casserole either at 175 °C for 1 - 1½ hours or at 150 °C for a bit longer until the batteris set, slightly puffed and golden brown on top. Serve the casserole with baked Christmas ham.Although rutabaga casserole is always best when prepared, baked and eaten fresh from thescratch, it can be frozen after baking. In that case, omit the breadcrumbs. Let the frozencasserole thaw in refrigerator. If necessary, moisten the casserole by mixing in a bit of creambefore warming it up. Cover the casserole and warm at 150 °C. CURED SALMON Although salmon is commonly eaten throughout the year in Finland, it is also an essential part of the Finnish Christmas dinner. Typical preparations of salmon include the raw, sugar-and- salt-cured gravlax and hot- or cold-smoked salmon. Also other types of fish, like powan, are served freshly salted or smoked. Picture on left: home-cured gravlax slices with dill.
  6. 6. CHRISTMAS GLÖGGGlögg (or glögi in Finnish) is a Scandinavian mulledwine made with red wine or red fruit juices,heated up along with sugar and spices(cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, orange peel, allspice,mace, nutmeg, etc) and served mixed withraisins and almonds.375 ml (½ bottle) fruity red wine375 ml good blackcurrant juice1 stick of cinnamon3 - 5 cloves3 - 5 allspice berriessmall piece of dried Seville orange peel100 ml sugar, or to tastefor serving:dark raisinsalmonds(vodka)Scald the almonds and peel them. If you cannot find dried Seville orange peel, substitute it with acouple of thin strips of the zest of a fresh regular orange.Pour the wine and the juice in a saucepan and heat the mixture up. Do not let it boil. Add somesugar and the spices, mix thoroughly until the sugar has dissolved and let steep on a low heat for5 - 10 minutes (or longer) without boiling. Strain the glögg and spike it up with a dash of vodka,if you like. Reheat the mixture, if necessary.Drop a few blanched almonds and raisins in serving mugs or tea-glasses with a spoon in themand pour the hot glögg over. Serve immediately with e.g. star-shaped Christmas pastries orgingerbread cookies.
  7. 7. GINGERBREAD COOKIESThese cookies are made by cutting out different shapes from rolled outgingerbread dough with cookie cutters, then baked.100 ml dark molasses200 ml sugar1 portion (4 - 5 tsp) of gingerbread spice1 tsp baking soda50 ml cold water150 g butter1 - 2 eggs500 g flourMix the molasses, sugar and spices in a saucepan and bring the mixture to the boil. Remove thepan from heat. Mix the baking soda thoroughly with the water and add to the sugar-spicemixture. Add the soft butter, egg(s) (one at a time) and flour. Mix just enough to get a stickydough.Wrap the flattened dough in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for overnight, for the flour toswell. On the next day, roll out the hardened dough between two parchment papers (thuspreventing the dough from sticking to the rolling pin) into as thin sheet as possible (about 3 mm).Remove the top parchment paper.Using cookie cutters, cut different shapes out of the dough. Popular Finnish shapes are little menand women, piglets, hearts, stars, half moons, etc. Leave some space between the shapes, as thedough will spread a bit in the oven. Remove the excess dough from between the shapes and rollit out again for the next batch of cookies. If the dough warms up and gets too sticky to handle,put it back in refrigerator for a while.Transfer the parchment paper and the cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 200 °C for about 5 -10 minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown slightly around the edges. This depends on thethickness and size of the cookie shapes. Let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.SOURCES: