Christmas in Finland: Food, Family, and Saunas

There’s something special and lovely about the end of the year. Here in Canada (and certainly in Finland), temperatures drop but spirits are high, lights glimmer on trees and streetlamps, and music drifts through the air alongside fluffy snowflakes.

As we get ready for the holiday season, similar preparations are taking place in Finland. From hot, spiced glögi to a traditional Joulusauna, there are a lot of ways to celebrate.

Joulu Festivities

Christmas – or Joulu, as it’s known in Finland – is a time to celebrate. The pre-Christmas party season starts as early as the first week of November, and, as you might have guessed, it’s marked by Christmas parties with friends. Christmas markets, twinkling lights, and caroling concerts all bloom throughout the streets, creating the perfect atmosphere for the arrival of the 24th of December.

Christmas Eve, not Christmas itself, is the highlight of Joulu celebrations. There are plenty of holiday traditions, such as the Christmas Eve broadcast of the Declaration of Christmas Peace. The Declaration is a reading at mid-day on Christmas Eve, in which listeners are encouraged to treat Christmas with respect and adopt an atmosphere of peace. The tradition arose after the 12th century introduction of Christianity, when the local ruler would declare that all war, work, and violence would cease for the holidays.

Finnish people typically spend these festive days at home with their families. After a Christmas Eve breakfast of rich rice porridge with fruit soup or plum juice, families head out to the local market to find their perfect tree. If they’ve already completed this task the day before, the time will instead be spent decorating the tree.

Families may also pay a visit to the graves of their loved ones, lighting candles or lanterns and taking some time to remember those who have passed. The sun sets early in winter, usually around 3:30PM, so the twinkling lights serve a dual purpose in honoring the dead and providing the living with light and cheer.

Joulusauna: A Christmas Eve Sauna

After lunch or an afternoon church service, many will head in for a special Christmas Eve sauna. This is an essential time to relax and unwind before the evening celebrations.

A good clean in the morning ensures that the sauna is ready to receive family and guests, and fresh bench covers, sauna oils, and lanterns are set out. Traditional wood-burning saunas may begin heating first thing in the morning in order to have it nice and hot for the afternoon, but modern electric saunas only require a few hours to reach the appropriate temperature.

When people enter, it is with the goal to purify their bodies and calm their minds. Some joke that it’s to prepare for hosting all their relatives that evening!

After the initial afternoon sauna, people may return for a second soak in the warmth after dinner.

Christmas Eve Dinner in Finland

We can’t talk about Christmas in Finland without also discussing Christmas Eve dinner. A baked or slow-roasted ham is far and away the star attraction of the dinner table. However, fish, such as freshly salted salmon and pickled herring, is also a mainstay of the festive season. These main dishes will be served alongside rosolli salad (composed of boiled tuber plants, like potatoes, carrots, and beetroot), several different types of homemade casseroles (rutabaga, carrot, and liver are popular choices), and sweet plum pastries called Joulutortut for dessert.

A hot, sweet mulled wine called glögi will be passed out in the evening to sip and savour as gifts are exchanged and opened. If the children in the house have been especially good that year, they might hear a soft knock at the door. A voice outside will ask, “Are there any well-behaved children here?” The kids will answer, the door will open, and Joulupukki – Santa Claus – will enter to hand out their gifts.

Holiday Relaxation

Perhaps in part due to all the good food of the evening before, Christmas Day is spent enjoying quiet relaxation at home. The following day, St. Stephen’s Day (also referred to as Boxing Day), is reserved for visiting family who might not have been able to make it for Christmas Eve.

This year, we hope you find your own moment to relax and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones. We’re hard at work preparing the spa, but if you’d like updates on our progress, you can connect with us online.

From all of us at Vettä, we wish you a wonderful holiday season and, of course, a very Hyvää Joulua.

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