My Finnish Holiday Traditions

Anna Halmeaho

Everyone in the US, who celebrates Christmas, has their own perception of what a typical Christmas Holiday tradition consists of; a Christmas tree, gingerbread cookies, stuffed turkey, eggnog, pumpkin pie, etc. For a person like me, who has experience living in another country, in this case Finland, have other expectations. 

Winter holiday traditions in Finland, in many ways, look similar to the US. Differences are, we eat laatikoita, which in English is casseroles (either porkkana, maksa, peruna, or lanttu) riisipuuro, glӧggi, and joulutorttu(s) to celebrate Christmas. Similarities in both countries include eating ham, salmon, peas, and gingerbread cookies. Some of us also attend our local Lutheran Church in the morning. On the other hand, all of us enjoy a nice sauna heat in the evening. 

You may have many questions; what exactly are laatikko(s), riisipuuro, joulutorttu(s), and what in the world is glӧggi? All of the foods with the ending ‘laatikko’, are a kind of “casserole”, either containing potato, carrot, or rutabaga, very similar to traditional American casseroles. Riisipuuro or rice-porridge is traditionally eaten on Christmas Day morning and made in a large quantity. The large quantity is due to the fact that a single almond is mixed in. As everyone in the family skoops a

portion, everyone tries to find the manteli (almond), as said in Finnish. The one who finds, is thought to receive luck for the following year and gets to make a wish. As dessert, a joulutorttu(s) are eaten. They are special Christmas pastries, shaped like a star with plum jelly at its center. Lastly, glӧggi is a special holiday drink that tastes like mulwine. 

After dining, families enjoy a nice sauna heat and jump into a frozen lake, if they’re brave enough. The frozen waters can be up to -10 degrees Celsius (or 14 Fahrenheit). Did you know that almost every house in Finland has their own sauna inside their house? 

Many children in the US believe in Santa and that Santa Claus lives at The North pole. However, there is a place in Finland called Korvatunturi, where Santa actually lives. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look it up or travel to Northern Finland. I’ve been there and talked to the Man himself! 

In the US, Santa is said to visit during the night of the 24th of December, in Finland Santa comes on the evening of the 24th. Santa visits every household in person to give out gifts. 

A Holiday that isn’t celebrated in the US and is part of the Christmas holiday traditions in Scandinavia is Lucia Day, Lucianpäivä (Finnish), or just Lucia in Swedish. Lucia Day is celebrated on the 13th. According to my grandma, “The day before, my mom and I baked Lucia bread. The dough had saffron which made it appear a beautiful yellow. The bread was shaped differently (usually ‘s’ shaped)… We had long white dresses with wide, long red belts… Mom wore a candle crown which shone long bright light.” (translated) These traditions are celebrated because the sun is rarely seen in the sky during the dark winters in Scandinavia. Since people light candles, they overpower the darkness and people remember the soon returning sunlight. The celebrations on Saint Lucia Day are illuminated by thousands of candles in houses and outside.

Not only do the Finns celebrate Christmas and some celebrate Lucia Day during December, but we also celebrate Finland’s Independence Day which happens to be on December 6th. A candle is being lit on each window, the dining table is nicely set, and we celebrate our independence from Russia in 1917. Lighting a candle tradition comes from the time before the independence when the Russians invaded Finland. Finnish families put a single candle in the windowsill to send a message to other Finnish people and soldiers to tell them that they are Finns themselves and that it’s safe to seek refuge there. On this day we honor the brave men that served in the military and celebrate our well deserved independence. 

Next time you think about where you would like to travel during the next Holiday Season, maybe stop by Scandinavia; visit Finland to see the beautiful Northern lights, meet the real Santa Claus, try our delicious foods and treats and meet the great people.

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