Christmas in Finland
A Brief History
Christianity came to Finland during the 12th century via Swedish missionaries. During this period Finland also gradually became part of the kingdom of Sweden. Finns were seen as relatively primitive to Swedes. Thus Swedish colonization led to Swiss being the language of the upper class, while Finnish was relegated to the peasants and clergy.
The Protestant Reformation, started by Martin Luther in the 16th century, arrived in Sweden and Finland and took root. The Catholic Church, which once had a stronghold in Finland lost out to the Lutheran faith. This led to many Catholic religious symbols such as nativity scenes being banned. Although many Finnish Lutherans now display them. There was also a return to Finnish language culture during this time and the New Testament was translated into Finnish in 1548. Almost one hundred years later, the entire Bible was translated to Finnish.
During the early 18th century Sweden lost the provinces that included Finland to Russia. Under Russian rule it became an autonomous Grand Duchy. Eventually, Finland was able to gain its independence from Russia after a series of wars (1939-40; 1941-44 and 1944-45), although it did ultimately concede about 10% of its land to Russia. During the Continuation War (1941-44), Finland actually joined forces with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. This resulted in a forced neutrality treaty with Russia after the war. Thus, Finland is now neutral, despite the dissolution of the USSR, but still retains a peacekeeping force.
By 1950, 46% of Finns worked in agriculture. As industrialization increased, more people moved to the cities looking for opportunities. However, there were not enough jobs when the post-war baby boomers entered the workforce so hundreds of thousands of Finns emigrated to the more industrialized Sweden.
In the 1990s, the collapse of their largest trading partner—the USSR—and a global economic downturn led to a recession in Finland. The economy began recovering in 1993 and the economy grew. In 1995 Finland joined the EU and the Eurozone in 1999—adopting the Euro as its currency.
Christmas is observed starting on the first Sunday of Advent, also called the First Advent. Advent calendars of various types are very popular in Finland. The Feast of St. Lucy or St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th. Saint Lucia was a 3rd century martyr who took food to Christians in hiding. She wore a candle-lit wreath on her head so that she could carry as much food as possible, while lighting her way.
The eldest girl in each family will portray Saint Lucia, wearing a white robe and a crown of candles. She serves her parents buns, cookies, coffee and/or mulled wine. St. Lucia Day marks the beginning of the holiday season for Christmas tree shopping and decorating. Christmas cards are usually given at this time as well.
A unique Finnish Christmas tradition is bathing in a Christmas sauna with family and friends. To the Finns, the sauna is a symbol of for purity and a way to relax both body and soul. It is a common way to spend Christmas Eve afternoon. Families enjoy decorating gingerbread, which is often hung from the branches of a spruce Christmas tree. Ice lanterns made of small snowballs are popular décor at Christmas time as well. Also, many families will visit cemeteries to remember deceased loved ones. Catholic families will also attend midnight mass.
Finns believe that Santa-- Joulupukki-- lives in Lapland, Finland north of the Arctic Circle.
Christmas Eve is when he arrives with presents. There is a large theme park in north Finland called Santa Claus Village, where the Finns say Santa lives (the Arctic Circle cuts right through the village). People send letters to Santa in Finland from all over the world! Santa's Post Office in Lapland, Finland receives more than 30, 000 letters, packages and cards each day during the holiday season! To date, Santa has received mail from 198 countries around the world.
On Christmas Eve morning, breakfast is porridge or rice pudding. An almond will be hidden in it and the person who finds it is considered very lucky and has to sing a song. As in many Nordic countries, Christmas dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner is served between 5 and 7 pm in Finland on Christmas Eve. The typical Christmas meal consists of pork roast or oven baked ham, root vegetables casseroles, smoked salmon, pâté, and herring dishes. Glögi, a type of mulled wine is a very popular Christmas drink. Gingerbread biscuits paired with mulled wine and a wood-fired sauna makes for a perfect Finnish Christmas.
Whereas Christmas Eve is spent quietly with family, Christmas Day is for visiting friends and eating leftovers. Boxing Day, December 26th, is typically a day when many head to bars and clubs to celebrate further. Christmas does not officially end in Finland until 13 days after Christmas Day. Finns wish each other Hyvää Joulua, or Merry Christmas, for weeks before Christmas Day and for almost two more weeks afterwards!
Although 80% of Finns identify themselves as Christians, only about 8% claim to attend church monthly. Most Finns attend the Lutheran church, which sends out missionaries worldwide, especially to unreached people groups.
As is becoming the case in the US, the body of believers in Finland are experiencing tensions between an aging more conservative evangelical church population and a younger generation with a more vibrant spirituality. A more vibrant spirituality must replace traditional religious and cultural forms in order for the Church to grow its membership. Sadly, a growing number of younger, more evangelical Lutherans are frozen out of leadership positions precisely because their faith is too dynamic!
Pray that the younger Christians not lose heart, and pray that God will open doors for them to have a great revitalizing effect on the national Church.
Pray for Finns leading comfortable lives to see their need for a Savior.
Pray for believers isolating themselves from the body of Christ to be convicted of their need for fellowship.
Pray for churches to send more missionaries to neighboring Baltic nations.