A Finnish birch forest

Exploring the Heart of the Finns:
Finnish Traditions and Habits

Holidays: A Reflection of Cultural Heritage

Christmas: Joulu

Christmas, or “Joulu” in Finnish, stands as the peak of Finnish holiday celebrations. It’s a time for families to come together to decorate homes with candles and straw ornaments. The centerpiece of the celebration is the Christmas tree, adorned with sparkling lights and handmade decorations. An integral part of the Christmas tradition is lighting candles at gravesites to honor departed loved ones. During Christmastime, there are plenty of Christmas carol singing events organized. However, the traditional Christmas carols in Finland are quite melancholic and even sad yet beautiful songs. Christmas Eve saunas provide moments of reflection and relaxation, preceding the anticipation of Santa Claus’s visit. Festive meals are a highlight, featuring casseroles, overnight baked ham and salmon. Not to forget a variety of treats, including chocolate, gingerbread, and the glögi, a warm drink related to mulled wine.

Laskiainen, Easter, and May Day

Laskiainen, or Shrove Tuesday, is a day of sledding down snowy hillsides. During Laskiainen, the Finns enjoy the hearty pea soup and laskiaispulla, a traditional pastry. Originally, Laskiainen is celebrated before Lent starts. Easter, or “Pääsiäinen,” is marked by festive meals featuring delicacies like the iconic “mämmi” pudding and roast lamb. Children partake in the tradition of dressing up as Easter witches, exchanging decorated willow branches for treats. Easter egg hunting is also an exciting activity for the children. May Day, or Vappu, heralds the arrival of spring with picnics, parades, and festivities. Especially among students, Vappu is celebrated with enthusiasm, including the tradition of baptizing freshmen by dipping them in the rapids. A May Day donut and mead are the traditional treats of Vappu.

Midsummer and Independence Day

Midsummer, or “Juhannus,” celebrates the summer solstice with bonfires illuminating the night sky. Families engage in outdoor activities, such as traditional games and dances around the maypole, reflecting Finland’s deep connection to nature. For example, it is believed that if one gathers 7 different wildflowers under their pillow for the midsummer night, they will dream about their future spouse. Independence Day, observed on December 6th, commemorates Finland’s hard-won independence with solemn ceremonies and patriotic pride. Lighting blue-and-white candles symbolizes unity and remembrance, often accompanied by watching the President’s Independence Day reception on television.

Sunset view from a Finnish lake.

Cultural Aspects: An Insight into Finnish Life

Finland’s natural landscapes serve as a source of inspiration and renewal, providing the backdrop for many cherished traditions and pastimes. From vast forests and pristine lakes to rugged coastlines and snow-capped mountains, the Finnish countryside offers a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking, fishing, and berry picking allow Finns to connect with nature and find solace in its beauty. National parks provide opportunities for wilderness adventures and wildlife encounters.

The Concept of Sisu and Community Spirit

Finnish people exhibit an inner strength known as “sisu,” characterized by resilience, determination, and perseverance in the face of adversity. This enduring spirit, rooted in Finland’s rugged conditions, inspires individuals to overcome challenges with courage and fortitude. Additionally, Finland fosters a strong sense of community through “talkoot,” or communal work parties. Whether it’s building a neighbor’s barn or cleaning up a local park, talkoot brings people together to achieve common goals and strengthen bonds. Even though maintaining a sense of community is rooted in the Finnish mindset, Finns do value personal space and boundaries. Finns exhibit patience and orderliness, shown in the practice of queuing with civility and courtesy.

Sauna Culture and Culinary Traditions

The sauna holds a sacred place in Finnish culture, serving as a sanctuary for relaxation and rejuvenation. Whether nestled in the countryside or found in modern urban spas, sauna bathing is a cherished ritual in Finnish life. Sauna is also closely tied to “mökkilife,” a way of spending time in the cottage, usually near a lake. When bathing in the sauna, taking a dip in the lake is a very Finnish thing, even during cold wintertimes.

A woman wearing a sauna hat and a towel, standing outside the sauna.

Finnish cuisine reflects the country’s agricultural heritage and natural bounty, with staples like rye bread, potatoes, and fish complemented by seasonal delicacies like wild berries and mushrooms. Traditional dishes such as “kalakukko” (fish pie) and “karjalanpiirakka” (Karelian pasty) highlight Finland’s culinary diversity. Coffee culture also plays a significant role in Finnish daily life, with coffee breaks fostering connections and conversations throughout the day. The Finnish love of coffee is reflected in the country’s high per capita consumption and the popularity of coffee houses and cafes.

Ice Hockey and Moomin Mania

Ice hockey holds a special place in Finnish hearts, with the sport uniting fans across generations and backgrounds. Legendary players like Jari Kurri and Teemu Selänne inspire fervent support, and the success of Finland’s national team is a source of national pride. Finland even hosted the world championships in 2022, bringing the golden medal to Finland! It’s really an experience to participate in a hockey game in the arena in Finland with the locals cheering for their team. The whimsical world of the Moomins, created by Finnish author Tove Jansson, has captured imaginations worldwide. Moomin mugs, adorned with beloved characters and scenes from Moominvalley, are cherished collectibles found in many, if not all, Finnish homes.