Christmas in Finland is a time for family bonding, connecting with nature, and taking things slow, enjoying every moment.
Finland at Christmas time is a winter wonderland coming alive, thanks to snowy landscapes and magical decorations.
Finnish Christmas is all about contrasts – chilly weather and hot sauna, dark nights and Christmas markets sparkling in a myriad of lights.
Many Finns prefer to spend the holidays outdoors, in the countryside, but Finnish towns don’t lack a festive atmosphere either.
Of course, delicious food and gifts are vital elements of the celebration. No matter where Finns spend Christmas Eve, they always spend it with their loved ones.
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Gingerbread is a staple Finnish Christmas food and a fundamental tradition for many families. Children and their parents love to bake gingerbread together and eating it is often secondary to baking.
Gingerbread cookies can be shaped like stars, angels, reindeer, bells, snowmen, Christmas trees, and other festive symbols. Sometimes, Finns use shapes unrelated to Christmas, such as pigs and hearts.
Decorating cookies with frosting is the most exciting part of the culinary experience for kids, allowing them to express creativity. Sometimes, they leave a short message on the cookies instead of ornaments.
Finns with advanced baking skills make gingerbread houses, and Christmas markets offer a selection of ornate gingerbread figurines. Finnish gingerbread houses may not be the largest in the world, but they’re undoubtedly skillfully made.
Christmas markets have been a big thing in Europe since the 13th century when the first December market was hosted in Vienna. The oldest and largest Christmas market in Finland is held in Helsinki, Senate Square.
A Christmas market in the Old Town Hall Square of a small medieval town, Porvoo, situated just an hour away from Helsinki, isn’t as rich but has a magical atmosphere, allowing visitors to step back in time.
Turku, Finland’s third-largest town, welcomes locals and tourists to Christmas markets at the Old Great Square and Market Square. Tampere’s Christmas market has a distinctly artistic vibe, offering a variety of arts and crafts.
Finnish Christmas markets embrace the tradition, offering a selection of holiday treats, warm drinks, handmade ornaments, and souvenirs in cozy, lit-up wooden chalets.
Christmas markets in Finland aren’t solely about shopping – they also offer attractions for children and their parents. For example, the Helsinki Christmas market offers free merry-go-round spins for kids, and on Saint Lucia’s Day, visitors can see the traditional candle procession.
Finns admire minimalistic Christmas decorations, so you can rarely see a house decorated with fairy lights from the bottom to top like in the U.S. Most Finns prefer timeless classics like evergreen branches, wreaths, garlands, and red bows.
A traditional Finnish Christmas tree pays tribute to mother nature, adorned with handmade wooden and paper ornaments, real candles, and tiny baskets with berries, fruits, and nuts. However, glass baubles and tinsel are also common.
Finns used to fetch Christmas trees from forests back in the day, and those residing in rural areas still do it. However, Finns living in cities more and more often buy Christmas trees from markets.
One unique Finnish Christmas decoration is himmeli, tree ornaments made from straw. Many Finns make himmeli themselves with their children; others buy them at Christmas markets.
“Himmel” translates as “sky,” and this name perfectly fits such a lightweight ornament.
Himmeli traditionally has a diamond shape, but creative Finns constantly develop new designs. Large himmeli often hang from the ceiling in Finnish living rooms or above the dining table.
Another straw decoration is the Yule goat; a small goat ornament hung on the Christmas tree or a bigger one standing on the dining table. The custom has pagan origins but later became an integral element of Scandinavian Christmas celebrations.
Throughout the entire December, the windows of every Finnish house are lit up with candle bridges and large paper, wooden, or metal stars with ornate cut-outs.
Although residential house exteriors are humble, main city streets and major landmarks always radiate the Christmas spirit. Trees in parks are adorned with string lights, and shopping malls present elaborate holiday displays.
Finnish Christmas Food
Finns celebrate Christmas on December 24 with an abundant feast. But while the dishes are numerous, they are hearty and simple. Traditionally, food is served buffet-style, and everyone must try a little bit of every meal.
The Finnish Christmas dinner starts with appetizers that could be enough for a proper lunch if it wasn’t such an important celebration.
Pickled herring with mustard or dill, salmon, beetroot salad, cold Christmas ham with cloves, and various casseroles are always on the menu.
Lutefisk is one of the dishes that not every Finn is brave enough to try. It’s a dried white fish pickled in lye with a gelatinous texture and pungent odor.
Finns rarely eat turkey – instead, they serve multiple main entrée options, including meatballs, sausages, and salmon, always with boiled potatoes and beetroot salad.
Christmas puff pastry with prune jam is a sweet treat no Finn can miss. Gingerbread, chocolate, spiced cakes, and cinnamon buns are also on the menu, accompanied by coffee or tea.
Finnish Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without snaps and ale. However, some people prefer mulled wine with cinnamon, anise, cloves, and dried orange. Kids usually drink hot chocolate or soda.
The traditional Christmas Day breakfast meal is rice porridge with some butter and an almond hidden in one of the plates. Whoever finds the almond is believed to have a great year.
Finns exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, but the time may vary. Families with kids do it earlier, often before the dessert, while adults can exchange gifts after midnight.
Finnish Santa Claus lives in eastern Lapland, and many Finns insist that he’s the only real Santa. His Finnish name, Joulupukki, translates as “Christmas goat,” perhaps drawing links with the pagan Yule goat tradition.
Overall, Finnish Santa isn’t much different from American – he also wears round glasses on a plump face, wears a red suit, and has a long beard. Elves help him make good and naughty children lists and pack gifts.
Finnish kids don’t leave any cookies and milk for Santa – he’s busy and doesn’t have time for treats. Santa knocks on the door and asks, “Are there any well-behaved children here?”.
After the children respond with “yes,” Santa can enter the house and leave the gifts. However, he prefers to remain unnoticed, so kids watch cartoons in another room or indulge in puff pastries in the kitchen.
Christmas sauna is a centuries-old Finnish tradition stemming from when people didn’t yet have another place to bathe. On Christmas Eve, everyone would go to the sauna to get ready for the celebration.
Nowadays, people can shower anytime, but visiting a sauna with family or friends remains a fun and relaxing activity. Candles and lanterns with ornate cut-outs create a magical atmosphere, while fragrant oils let Finns clear their minds.
A wonderful scent of birch whisk or dried birch leaves in a cloth bag bring a touch of summer into the cold winter day. An authentic Finnish Christmas sauna experience includes cold showers or dips into cold pools between sauna sessions.
The bravest Finns jump into snow or natural waters. However, many find it extreme and prefer to sit outside and enjoy drinks instead.
If you want to experience a white Christmas, visit Finland. At Christmas time, Finland turns into a real-life winter wonderland, offering locals and tourists an array of fun snow activities for any preference.
Skiing, snowshoeing, and snowboarding in Finnish mountains are undoubtedly the most popular activities, but some Finns prefer more extreme sports such as kick sledding, heli-skiing, and snowcross.
Dog sledding is especially popular among tourists and families with kids, and Santa’s village in Rovaniemi offers visitors to ride a sleigh with reindeer – however, only one rather than eight.
Those who are lucky enough can see the Northern lights in Finland’s north. Locals and tourists can even take snowmobile tours during Christmas time to observe this nature’s miracle.
According to Finns, Santa lives in Rovaniemi, a small arctic village in Lapland. His cozy wooden house welcomes visitors from all over the world, offering a variety of attractions.
Santa’s House of Snowmobiles presents the history of snowmobiles in the Arctic region, while Santa Claus’s Office allows kids to chat with Santa and leave him a letter.
A white line crossing the village marks the Arctic Circle, and one who steps behind the line enters the Arctic region. It’s one of the trendiest photo spots in the village.
Elf’ Farmyard is essentially a small zoo with local animals, including reindeer, sheep, and rabbits. At Christmas time, village visitors can shop for holiday food and decorations in wooden chalets and enjoy performances.
Finnish children love caroling, so churches, schools, and other organizations often host caroling events. “Varpunen jouluaamuna,” translating as “sparrow in the Christmas morning,” is an all-time Finnish favorite carol.
The carols are primarily local, but some popular foreign Christmas songs have also deserved a place in Finnish hearts – for example, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and Wham’s “Last Christmas.”
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