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  • 1.  Finland - “Goal!” is prevalent in Finnish ice hockey as “Hauskaa joulua ja onnellista uutta vuotta!” is a staple for Finnish Christmas celebrations.  Finnish: Joulu  Christmas in Finland is unforgettable for many visitors during the holiday season, as the Finnish Christmas traditions can vary from your home's traditions quite a bit. So how do they celebrate Christmas in Finland?  The first Sunday in December (also called the First Advent) starts the Finnish Christmas season. Many children use advent calendars that count down the remaining days to Christmas Eve.  December 13 is the day of Saint Lucia, who is celebrated with lots of candles and formal celebrations in every town with a candle-crowned young girl. The time for Scandinavian Christmas tree shopping and decorating is coming, and Christmas cards are being exchanged.  Essentials on Christmas Eve in Finland are Christmas mass, and a visit to a Finnish sauna, of course. Many Finnish families also visit cemeteries to remember the dead and have porridge for lunch (with a hidden almond in it - the finder has to sing a song.)  Between 5-7 pm on Christmas Eve, Christmas dinner is served in Finland, which traditionally consists of oven-baked ham, rutabaga casserole, beetroot salad, and similar holiday foods. Christmas Eve in Finland also consists of joyful carols and local Christmas songs. The Christmas presents are usually given out in the evening during a personal visit from the local Santa Claus.  Christmas in Finland officially ends 13 days after Christmas Day.  And last but not least, don't forget that "Merry Christmas" in Finnish is "Hyvää Joulua!"
  • 2.   Christmas Does Not Come from A Store...  Bows and ribbons, colour paper and more boxes and bangles..., all over the floor  ornaments and stockings, wreaths and blinking lights glowing stars and angels twinkling throughout the nights...  piles of food and gifts, party dresses and drink frantic shopping 'til midnight, more spending than we think...  Is this what Christmas is all about? What is this all for? Or is the Christmas spirit not available in any store...  This is the time of year of not bothering to measure the material worth we have... only greatful for untouchable treasure;  Love can not be bought, nor found in any shopping mall. I'd give up every purchased gift; I would gladly trade them all...  for you are a gift like no other, a treasure for which I have been blessed. I wish for you this holiday season a full year of pure happiness!  Now please pass on this heartfelt message to those close to you... Let them know how much you care and wish them happiness too.
  • 3.  FINNISH CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION  Christmas Eve  Unlike in most Christian countries, the highlight of the Finnish Christmas celebration is the Christmas Eve, December 24th, and not the Christmas Day itself.  In the old town of Turku, the former capital of Finland, a special ceremony is held to declare the beginning of "Christmas peace" period, starting at 12 o'clock noon on Christmas Eve and lasting for twenty days.  The tradition of declaring Christmas peace is known to date back to 13th century. It used to be common to all the Nordic countries, but only in Finland has it been maintained almost uninterruptedly up to our days. In the declaration, the citizens are wished a merry Christmas and prompted to spend the Christmas time peacefully, avoiding "noisy and rowdy behaviour".  Although Finland is a rather secular country, the celebrating of Christmas here is still very pronounced when compared to most other Christian countries.  On Christmas Eve afternoon, the whole country seems to freeze down as the public transport seizes and the stores are closed. It is still and quiet everywhere when people start getting prepared for the evening.  Some people attend the Christmas Eve church service and many visit cemeteries to light candles on the graves of their deceased relatives and loved ones. Towards the darkening evening cemeteries are glowing with twinkling lights.  Most Finns have a tradition of going to sauna to bathe and relax before attending the celebrations of the evening.  Note: warming up the sauna on Christmas is an ancient custom in Finland. Among the rural folk, it was believed that the spirits of dead ancestors came to bathe to sauna after sunset. Sauna was regarded as a holy place where many important acts of life were carried out — from giving birth to dying and treating and healing of sicknesses. Also today, the sauna in Finland is a symbol for purity. For more information, visit The Finnish Sauna Society website.  Families from toddlers to great-grandparents gather together to have Christmas dinner.  Especially for children, this is a magical time full of joyous anticipation, and many adults as well have their warmest childhood memories linked to Christmas celebrations of the years past.  Not to forget the true meaning of Christmas, it is a custom in some families to read aloud the Christmas gospel by St. Luke, describing the events at the time of the birth of Jesus. The reading is usually done by the family's youngest literate child.  In picture on left: Reading of the Christmas gospel.  After the Christmas dinner, some families may have a visit from joulupukki, the Finnish Santa Claus. He will bring Christmas presents, which are placed under the Christmas tree.  In picture on right: Christmas presents under the Christmas tree.  Later in the evening, the presents will be handed out and opened.  Christmas Day and end of holiday season  Christmas Day is usually spent quietly at home, relaxing and resting, with some people perhaps attending the early morning church service. The following St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) is traditionally a day for family visits.  The Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day (from December 24th to 26th) are all public holidays in Finland. Some people, especially those with small children, may take leave from work until the New Year's Day to spend the holidays with the family. In the beginning of January, children start their school again.  After the Christmas holidays, it is time to get prepared to welcome the New Year. Christmas time ends with Epiphany, January 6th. By this day, most people have already put away the Christmas ornaments and stripped down and thrown out the Christmas tree.
  • 4.  Everyone cleans their houses ready for the three holy days of Christmas - Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Christmas Eve is very special, when people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup made from dried fruits (plums, raisins, apples, pears, apricots and figs). It´s eaten in the morning or at lunchtime. They will then decorate a spruce tree in the home. At mid-day, the 'Christmas peace declaration' is broadcast on radio and TV from the Finnish city of Turku by its Mayor. In the evening, a traditional Christmas dinner is eaten. The meal will include 'casseroles' containing liver, rutabaga, carrot and potato, with cooked ham or turkey. Some families eat liver pate. Rawpickled slightly salted salmon, herrings and salad called "rosolli". Mushroom salad is also common. Rosolli is cold salad made from peeled, cooked and diced potatoes, carrots, beetroot and diced apples, onions and pickled cucumber. Season with salt (some people use also pepper). Whipped cream (+ salt, vinegar and beetroot colour to make it pink) is served with rosolli. Food traditions during the Christmas period depend on which part of Finland people live. In Lapland and in Finland's islands there are different foods. Other foods include cooked peas, different kind on salads, roe, cold fish-dishes, pates, other casseroles such as beetroot casserole with cheese or with blue cheese, sweet and spiced breads, carelian pies, and cheeses. Gingerbreads, spiced cakes, different kind of cakes and cookies and others to eat with coffee or milk. You eat these at "day-coffee" time on the Christmas eve (after the Christmas peace declaration which everybody watches on TV, or before going to the church and graveyard), in the evening. Christmas smells include mulled wine, gingerbreads, spices - cinnamon being the most common - Christmas tree, burning candles and hyacinthe. Poinsettia and hyacinthe are the most popular Christmas flowers. On Christmas eve many go to church, on the afternoon or late afternoon (time depends of local churches) - this is new tradition. The "real" and old Christmas church is early on the morning of Christmas day. Many go there too. Graveyards are very beautiful places on the Christmas eve, since there are lot of soft white snow and the only lights come from candles people bring to the graves of loved ones. If relatives are buried in other graveyards, there are places in graveyard you can lit your candle to remember them. Sauna of course is part of celebration. People go there before church and graves, or after them. After sauna is the festive dinner. The high moment! After that comes Santa Claus (if there are children) or the presents that are under the Christmas tree are opened. In some families where there are no small kids, the presents are not put under the tree, but collected to big sacks, which are carried near the front door. Then a family member might say, Did I heard sound of reindeers and bells... Or Did I hear Santa Claus... When they go to check, there are big sacks full of presents there. So it was Santa after all. Then people drink coffee and eat cakes, cookies and other sweet things. Enjoy present and play games. Small kids go to bed but others stay up late. Many families will visit cemeteries and grave-yards to place a candle onto the burial graves of family members. Cemeteries are very beautiful at Christmas-time.  Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve, usually with a family member dressing as Father Christmas. As children grow older, they come to realise that 'Father Christmas' is really a bigger brother, sister or family member.
  • 5.  The Christmas Holiday in Finland  Finland is a small Scandinavian country in northern Europe. It is a land of many traditions, situated on the Baltic sea and influenced by the neighbouring countries of Sweden, Russia, Estonia, and Norway.  Families in Finland celebrate the Christmas holiday a little different than families in countries on the western end of the world. One of the most apparent differences between the celebration of Christmas in Finland and the celebration of Christmas in other cultures is that in Finland the Christmas Tree is felled and set up on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, while in other cultures the Christmas tree may be erected as far as an entire month in advance. The children of the family normally decorate the tree with apples, candy, cookies, ornaments, tinsel, and Finnish flags, and candles (or Christmas lights).  Just as in Sweden, the people of Finland have adopted St. Lucia's day, December 13. On St. Lucia's day, the eldest daughter of the family dresses in a white robe with a sash, and a head wreath with candles around it. Clothed as such, she distributes breakfast rolls and coffee in bed. All of this is done in honour of the old Saint Lucia who was said to have delivered food to Christians during the time of their greatest persecution, her way lit only by a few candles. Saint Lucia was later executed for her valiant acts. By popular vote, the people elect a national St. Lucia from a selection of several young teenage girls, who lead the nation in their national St. Lucia's day programs such as pageants, carols, etc.  On Christmas day, most local store owners lock up their shops at noon, so of course the Finnish people must get their shopping done on time! At this time, the "Peace of Christmas" is proclaimed, which means the Christmas holiday is officially in effect. In the early evening, Finnish families make a trip to the graveyard where they place candles on the grave markers of their loved ones, and mourn for them. After all of this is said and done, the Christmas celebration begins.  The Finnish version of Santa Claus, Joulupukki (which roughly translates into Christmas Goat) is a jolly old man dressed in a red suit, similar to the jolly old version of Saint Nick. That is pretty much where their similarities end. While there are a lot of similarities between the Finnish and American version of Santa (minus the walking stick that Joulupukki is said to use), such as the reindeer team led by legendary Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the fact that he travels in a sleigh, Joulupukki's reindeer do not fly! Also, while he does travel from home to home to give gifts to the "good" children of the world, rather than popping in and out of chimneys in the middle of the night Joulupukki is said to knock on the door during the family's Christmas celebration.  According to the legend, upon entrance into the family home he says, "Onko täällä kilttejä lapsia?" which roughly translates into the question of whether or not there are any well-behaved children in the home. Of course since Joulupukki is merely a Christmas myth, normally a male family member or friend of the family will sneak out of the house to knock on the door and present the anxious, elated Finnish children with their gifts as a reward for model behaviour during the year. After giving out his gifts, Joulupukki "departs" and returns to his toy workshop in Lapland, Finland (no, not the North Pole) for another year.
  • 6.  Finland:  So Christmas is over… People here in Finland celebrate Christmas on the 24th… so I think Santa comes on the night of the 23rd. It makes sense that Santa, being from Korvatunturi (a city in Finland)) would deliver gifts to Finland first, and then head off to the rest of the world (at least in my mind this seems reasonable). So with that said, Lee and I sort-of had two Christmases, one on the 24th and the other on the 25th (which is when people in the U.S. celebrate).  On the 24th, everyone in Turku (at least it seemed like everyone!) went to the old town centre near the picturesque church (see picture below). Lee and I went as well and once there had glogi (a hot, sweet tea/wine drink with almonds) and listened to a band. At noon there was some sort of traditional reading…Lee and I weren’t real sure what was being said since our Finnish skills are barely existent, but we listened and enjoyed the gathering regardless.  Another positive element about the festive gathering was that there were many new dogs for Mikku, “the Ewok”, to meet. However, Lee and I found it challenging to communicate with the owners of Mikku’s new friends, and felt guilty for not having learned enough Finnish to respond to their questions concerning Mikku.  Now about the Weather: Lee and I both thought that living in Finland guaranteed us a white Christmas, but instead got only a light rain and wind both on the 24th and the 25th. Although the weather was a bit disappointing, Lee and I still had a great Christmas!
  • 7.  · Make an advent calendar to count down the days to Christmas, beginning with the first Sunday in December. Each day, cross out one day on your calendar until Christmas has arrived.  · 2  Attend a Saint Lucia Day celebration on December 13. On this day, a young girl in each town will wear a crown of candles. Bring a Christmas card to exchange with any one of the acquaintances you may have made during your holiday so far.  · 3  On Christmas Eve, make porridge for lunch. Be sure to hide an almond in it--the one who finds the almond in her porridge must then sing a song!  · 4  Still on Christmas Eve, visit a graveyard. Many Finns remember their ancestors on this occasion--and you can, too, even if your own aren't buried there.  · 5  Eat a hearty Christmas Eve dinner, with a main course of baked ham.  · 6  After dinner, exchange Christmas gifts. You may be visited by Santa Claus (a local who plays the part), who will likewise present gifts.  · 7  At midnight, attend mass at a local church. Christmas mass is a tradition spanning a millennium in Finland, and no "How to Celebrate Christmas in Finland" list would be complete without it.
  • 8.  Thank you very much merry christmas

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