The Finns traditionally get about five weeks paid holiday a year, plus bank holidays. Usually, the time they take off during the summer will be spent at their summer cottage or enjoying the long daylight hours of mid-summer in Finland. A winter skiing holiday and a trip to sunnier climes will be built around the other weeks. One warning to foreigners who may be tempted to come to Finland to join in some holiday festivities is that the Finns themselves tend to leave the cities in their droves and everything is closed—hotels, restaurants, museums etc. Not Helsinki, of course. You may well be able to find a small family hotel which will be open, but unless you have Finnish friends to spend time with, there will be nothing for you to do. Alternatively, you could stay in one of the increasingly popular holiday villages which have built-in entertainment.
Easter and Christmas are the most important holidays in Finland. Easter is the most important religious celebration in Finland. People flock to religious concerts, passion plays, and religious services. Whenever Easter falls, the days are getting longer and the Finns like to make the most of this holiday. Easter is almost a Finnish version of Hallowe»en, with children dressing up as witches or trolls and with trick or treats style traditions. The doorbell rings and when you open the door, you see three girl-hags clad in shawls and clutching pussy willow twigs adorned with pink and yellow feathers. «Give us coins or candy,” they shriek. The Easter chicken delivers Easter eggs during the night when children are asleep (just like Santa Claus with his presents at Christmas time) and the children experience the same wondrous excitement. People paint Easter Eggs and eat pasha and mammi. Mammi is an exclusively Finnish seasonal cake made of rye and malt that goes well with cream and a sprinkling of sugar. Lamb is the traditional meat for this festival.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Joulu) are mainly family celebrations. This is not the time to get drunk to enjoy yourself. Almost everything is closed and if you are on your own, this is not a good time to be in Finland. The main Christmas meal is served on Christmas Eve, probably about 6:00 in the evening, after the afternoon visit to the graveyard. This is a very special occasion when the Finns will take candles and light them and put them on the graves of their lost loved ones. The cemetery will be full of light; the light from these flickering candles is enhanced by the whiteness of the snow. They may also attend mass. The exchanging of gifts and feasting will be saved for Christmas Eve night. The whole family will probably enjoy decorating the trees, a Christmas sauna together before partaking of more food, including mulled wine, prune-filled, star-shaped pastries, and gingerbread cookies.
A December treat not to be missed in Rovaniemi is the traditional Lappish Christmas market. The market traders are dolled up in traditional costumes and the stalls stocked with handmade arts and crafts.
The May Day holiday (Vappu) is always the first day of May, whatever the day on which it falls. So on the evening of 30 April, there are a lot of festivities. It is, of course, International Labour Day, but in Finnish tradition, this festival is about celebrating springtime. A tradition at this time of year is for people to put on their white student caps—the caps that they wore for (school) graduation day. It is quite common for decorations to be put up a day beforehand, even in offices. It’s said that Finland suffers the hangover of the year on May Day, as this is a time to «let your hair down» and have a great deal of fun. This holiday is spent eating and drinking and is definitely a time for partying with friends.
Midsummer (Juhannus) is of special importance to them. This holiday celebrates the longest day of the year. For those who live in areas of the world where the length of the day differs only slightly during the year, I must emphasize that having «white nights» is so uplifting for the soul. Even in the southernmost part of Finland, the wee small hours of the morning will be just 90 minutes of twilight. The festivities always take place on the Friday night and Saturday between 20 and 26 June. The Finns leave the towns en masse to spend mid-summer in the countryside. There is usually a mid-summer festival full of music, dancing, and food; and a gigantic traditional bonfire is lit.
Independence Day is another bank holiday which falls on 6 December. This is always a somber and serious day to mark Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917. Independence Day is a time when Finns like to eat a festive lunch in a restaurant with relatives and friends. Bakeries will make special blue/white pastries and shops will have blue/ white displays. People light candles and put them in their windows, and then they visit cemeteries and light candles there. In the evening of Independence Day, the president of Finland always holds a huge formal party for all the VIPs in Finland. This party is televised and becomes the highlight of the holiday.
New Year (Uudenvuodenaatto) is celebrated like elsewhere in the world. Speeches, fireworks, partying and making New Year resolutions! However, there is a tradition of melting tin in a dipper and pouring it into a bucket of cold water. The resulting form is then interpreted to predict the future.
Public Holidays in Finland
1 January: New Year
6 January: Epiphany
March/April: Easter including Easter Monday
30 April evening: May Day Festivities
1 May: May Day
May: Ascension Day
May/June: Whit Sunday
3rd weekend of June: Midsummer Holidays
1 November: All Saints Day
6 December: Independence Day
24–26 December: Christmas
From Annabel Battersby, an Australian in Finland: ‘since living here for a longer time, I realize that the year is punctuated with traditions and customs, some involving flag raising, eating special foods and decorating your home in various ways. It’s very different to Australia where there are no such well-enforced traditions, and I am beginning to really like it. But I will never forget the Finnish silence that greeted my first giggle about the graduation cap….»
Take a look at her wonderful photos and read about her life in Finland: annabel-jaakko.blogspot.com
Flag Raising Days are very common in this northern country. Hardly a month passes without the blue and white flag of Finland being raised to celebrate some Finnish tradition or person. There is an official calendar with the flag days in it and Finnish janitors have clear instructions as to when to hoist the flags and take them down. Finland has 16 flag raising days—six of them official and ten unofficial. On official flag days, government institutions are obliged to fly the flag. Spring is known as the high season for flag-raising which begins with Agricola’s Day (the father of the Finnish language, 9 April). Only two of the flag-raising days are public holidays; May Day and Independence Day.
The Flag-Raising Days (Liputusäivät)
5 February : Runeberg’s Day (was a famous poet and writer)
28 February: Kalevala’s Day (national epic of Finland)
9 April: Mikael Agricola’s Day (father of the Finnish language)
27 April: Veteran’s Day
1 May: May Day
12 May: Snellman’s Day (father of the Finnish currency)
May: Mother’s Day
20 May: Remembrance Day
4 June: Finnish defense forces/military Day
23 June: Finnish flag’s Day
6 July: Eino Leino’s Day (a famous Finnish poet and writer) 10 October: Aleksis Kivi’s Day (was a famous Finnish writer)
24 October: United Nation’s Day
6 November: Swedish Day
November: Father’s Day
6 December: Independence Day