Unlike in many other countries, Christmas Eve is the most important day for Christmas celebrations in Finland. There are a lot of old traditions for celebrating Christmas, but there’s also room for new customs.
Christmas preparations start, depending on your level of enthusiasm, as early as November. Setting up fairy lights and Christmas decorations brings brightness and joy into the otherwise very dark winter. Did you know that on winter solstice, the length of the day in southern Finland is less than 6 hours? However, we are often fortunate enough to have a white Christmas, which makes the nature look particularly beautiful.
On Christmas Eve, a very old Finnish tradition is the Declaration of Christmas Peace, which is read aloud in the city of Turku. In the Declaration people are reminded that Christmas peace has begun, and it advises people to spend the holidays in harmony. It also warns against breaking the peace and threatens the perpetrators with severe punishments. The declaration ends with wishing everyone a merry Christmas. The tradition of the Declaration of Christmas Peace has continued almost uninterrupted since the 1300s.
A traditional Finnish Christmas Eve breakfast is rice porridge with one whole almond. The person, who gets the almond will have good luck for the whole year! For those, who enjoy the sweeter things in life, gingerbread cookies and joulutorttu – a star shaped pastry filled with plum jam, are a must on Christmas. The go-to hot drink for Christmas is glögi, which is usually made with grape juice and spices like cinnamon, cloves, carnation, and ginger. It is common to add some raisins and almond flakes to add more flavor. For grown-ups, the drink can also be spiked!
To no surprise, going to sauna is for many an integral part of Christmas Eve traditions in Finland. Traditionally, going to sauna in the morning marked the beginning of Christmas. Nowadays, as many of us are no longer working on farms, the main point of Christmas sauna is not cleanliness, but the relaxing feeling bathing in a sauna gives you. It is also very common to go to Christmas service at the local church and visit cemeteries to light candles for the lost loved ones. In Finland, Christmas has a certain solemn quality, which you can hear also in our traditional Christmas carols. A good example of this is Varpunen jouluaamuna from 1859.
In the evening it’s time for an abundant Christmas dinner. A traditional Finnish Christmas dinner usually includes roasted ham, salmon, herring, meat stew, potatoes, different kinds of vegetable casseroles and a variety of salads. Eating is not only limited to the dinner table, as jouluna saa yölläkin syödä – at Christmas you can also eat at night.
Santa Claus, who lives in Korvatunturi, Finland, will bring Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. Children can watch a program called Santa’s Hotline in the morning and eventually see when he steps on the sleigh pulled by reindeer and starts his magical journey around the world. Children will usually sing a song for Santa before he hands out the presents.
After unwrapping the presents, the rest of the evening is dedicated to relaxing and enjoying the Christmas spirit (and your assorted chocolates) to the fullest!