Traditional Finnish celebrations and parties

5 minute read

Credits: Emilia Hoisko

Celebrating with a Finnish twist

Easter, Midsummer, the 1st of May … Finns love to celebrate their national holidays. Finns are always up for a celebration. Read on for what to expect and how to take part in the fun. 

Credits: Mikko Huotari

Valentine’s Day – Friends’ Day in Finland

While many parts of the world celebrate romantic love, Finland interprets the 14th of February differently. Here, Valentine’s Day is known as Ystävänpäivä, or Friend’s Day, and everyone’s included. Friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and, of course, sweethearts all receive cards, flowers and chocolates.

Credits: Satu Mali / LHGBTQ

Laskiainen – Shrove Sunday

Shrove Sunday, or Finland’s version of Mardi Gras, is celebrated in February seven weeks before Easter on a Tuesday. 

Laskiainen is traditionally a day of sledge riding. In the past, folks believed the further you can ride with your sleigh, the better the next year’s crop would be. Also eating heavy foods, like pea soup and buns filled with jam or almond paste, would have the same effect. Nowadays people enjoy the Laskiainen buns simply because they’re delicious. And sleigh-riding is always fun. 

A must-try Shrove Sunday treat is the laskiaispulla – a bun filled with whipped cream and either berry jam or almond paste. Nowadays, tasty vegan options are also available in many cafés and shops.
Both children and adults can enjoy laskiainen sledge and toboggan riding. One of the most famous hills in Helsinki is in Kaivopuisto Park, but you’ll find the longest hill in Finland at Kaunispää fell in Saariselkä.
Credits: Mikko Huotari

Pääsiäinen – Easter

The closer it is to Easter, the more witches and wizards are seen roaming in the streets. These children in disguise are actually taken very seriously, though. On Palm Sunday, little witches ring doorbells shouting a specific magic spell, promising to provide good health in exchange to a small gift.  This tradition dates back to Finland’s pagan days and its agrarian society, which believed that witches ensured a good crop for the coming year. Today, these costumed children expect a small reward: sweets, Easter eggs or coins. 

A traditional Easter meal includes lamb and Finnish rye pudding, or mämmi. While mämmi doesn’t look very appealing, it’s definitely worth trying with cream and sugar! Many Finns also like to go skiing over the Easter holiday, as the days are usually long and sunny, with lots of snow in the north.

Credits: Soili Jussila/Vastavalo

Vappu – First of May 

Springtime’s biggest party is Vappu, or Walpurgis’ Night. All over the country, generations come together on the eve of May Day for this carnival-style street festival. Students (and former students) parade through town wearing their graduation caps and celebrating the beginning of summer. But it’s not all balloons, confetti and champagne. Both May Day and Worker’s Day are celebrated on May 1st, and speeches from politicians can be heard in almost every public square of the major cities.

Food-wise, Vappu’s delicacies include tippaleipä, a type of funnel cake, and munkki, a doughnut. These are served with sima, or Finnish mead, which is delicious! The celebrations begin the day before May Day, and typically people head out to the parks for a picnic – it is one big feast!

Finnish May Day funnel cakes are made of light, lemon-flavoured batter that’s deep-fried and decorated with icing sugar.

Juhannus – Midsummer

Finland essentially shuts down on Midsummer (or “Juhannus” as it is called in Finnish). During this time you’ll find most Finns relaxing at a summer cottage, where they’ll be sitting by a bonfire, eating sausages, going to sauna or swimming in the lake or sea – all in celebration of the longest day of the year, when the sun doesn’t set at all in most parts of the country. 

To mark the holiday, people place birch branches on both sides of the front doors of their cottages (or their boats!) to welcome visitors. Midsummer was originally a pagan celebration known as Ukon juhla, or Ukko’s celebration, which was named after Ukko, the most significant god in Finnish mythology. Juhannus is celebrated on the Saturday that falls between June 20th and 26th. 

A true staple of Finnish midsummer is the so-called nightless night. In Lapland, the sun doesn’t set at all for several weeks!
Credits: Vastavalo / Leena Partanen

 Itsenäisyyspäivä – Independence Day 

Finland’s Independence Day is on the 6th of December. Not only is Finnish Independence Day about honouring the original date, it is also about commemorating those who lost theirs lives fighting for the country’s independence in the Winter and Continuation Wars during WWII. Friends and family typically honour the holiday by getting together for dinner at home or in a restaurant. Watching the Presidential Independence Day reception live on TV (and critically examining its guests!) is a beloved tradition, and people also take part in torch light processions or visits to soldiers’ graves. Candles are placed in homes’ windowsills.

Saint Lucia’s Day

Historically, this day has been tied to Swedish-speaking Finns and it is most visibly celebrated in Helsinki. Every year, on December 13th, a new Saint Lucia is crowned and parades through the city, starting from the main Cathedral in Senate Square. The contemporary Lucia brings light and joy to the darkness and helps collect funds for different charities. Originally, the Saint Lucia traditions dates back to an early-4th-century catholic martyr legend.  

Every year on December 13th, Lucia is selected from 10 finalists then crowned at Helsinki Cathedral.
Credits: Jussi Hellstén / MyHelsinki

Pikkujoulu-season – Pre-Christmas Season 

Finland’s pre-Christmas parties start as early as beginning of November, lighting up the darkest time of year with music, dancing, Christmas lights and traditional Christmas glögi, or mulled wine. Oftentimes, Santa will even make an appearance at a Pikkujoulu party! 

Joulu – Christmas

As every Finn knows, Santa Claus lives in Lapland, in the north of Finland. There, he prepares presents and answers children’s letters with the help of his elves. 

Finns themselves prefer to spend Christmas at home with family, preparing a traditional meal that often includes mashed rutabaga, carrot and potato casseroles. Salmon is also very common, but some people eat turkey or ham. At midday on Christmas Eve, the declaration of the Peace of Christmas is broadcast on TV and radio, straight from Finland’s “second capital,” Turku. The tradition of the declaration dates back 700 years! 

Finally, a Christmas sauna is a must for many a Finn, along with a trip to church to sing Christmas carols. 

Credits : Julia Kivelä
Credits: Timo Jakonen

The celebration of National Poet J.L Runeberg (and other famous writers) 

Finland celebrates National Poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877) on February 5th with a Runebergintorttu, or Runeberg’s torte, which is a jam-topped muffin with almonds and rum or arrack. But because Finns love all of their poets and novelists, virtually all famous writers have their own Flag Day. (Unfortunately, not all of them get their own pastry, though!) 

For example, Finnish writer and social activist Minna Canth was the first woman to receive her own Flag Day, March 19th. Elias Lönnrot, who compiled the Kalevala (the national epic of Finland), is officially celebrated on April 9th. Finnish poet and journalist Eino Leino is celebrated on July 6th, and Aleksis Kivi, one of the first authors of prose and lyrics in the Finnish language, is honoured on October 10th. 

During February, Runebergintorttus (Runeberg’s tortes) fill the shelves of cafés and shops around Finland.

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