After Advent weekend, the unveiling of outdoor Christmas decorations begin. It is the second most important holiday in Finland after the Independence Day.
Santa Lucia’s day is observed on December 13. In Helsinki, there is a beautiful Christmas procession in honour of Lucia in which Lucia with her crown of candles and white dress, surrounded by her court, symbolizes purity, and the flames of the candles symbolize her martyrdom.
As Yuletide begins, many families attach ornamental Christmas wreathes to their doors. They are not taken down until Twelfth Night, January 6. Many such ornaments are works of art and made of straw, which for hundreds of years was the most important material for Finnish Christmas decorations.
The Christmas tree is brought in on Christmas Eve at the latest and usually decorated by the children. Christmas trees used to have real candles, but now they are electric. There is a big star at the top of the tree and the branches are adorned with sweets, elves, stars, and apples relating to Adam and Eve. According to the Finnish calendar, Christmas Eve is the name day of Adam and Eve.
Unlike many other countries, the most important celebration in Finland is Christmas Eve, December 24. This includes Christmas saunas, preparation of Christmas dishes, and then the enjoyment of traditional delicacies such as herring, rosolli (a vegetable salad with beetroot, carrot, potato and gherkins), salmon, roe, casseroles of potato, carrot and swede, Christmas ham, a cold dessert of pureed plums, and gingerbread.
The highlight of the evening is of course when Santa (in Finnland he is called Joulupukki) knocks on the door. His words are always the same: "Are there any good children here?" Of course in every home there are only good children, who all receive presents.
Finns love their Christmas carols. Carols are sung in many churches before Christmas and there are also concerts.
One of the most beautiful moments of a Finnish Christmas Eve is visiting the graveyard. Relatives remember their deceased loved ones by placing candles on their graves. Seas of candles burning under a dark blue sky against the white snow form an unforgettable sight. Christmas is full of memories; many recall the Christmases of their childhood and past generations.
Christmas Day is also a time for rest and relaxation. Books brought by Santa Claus are read and food left over from Christmas Eve is eaten. It is not until St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) on December 26 that visits are made to friends and relatives. And if the weather permits, outdoor events are arranged . According to the legend, the martyr Stephen, who was stoned to death, was the stable hand of Herod. Therefore Stephen became the patron saint of horses and horsemen in Finland. On St. Stephen’s Day horses are included in the celebration of Christmas. Horses were used to pull sleighs on the traditional visits and in fact sleigh rides can still be enjoyed at many St. Stephen’s Day events.
People are also kind to animals at Christmas. This commerotates the manger where Christ was born. Horses are given oats and bread at Christmas, and many stables celebrate Christmas for horses. The stables are decorated with boughs of fir, and after Christmas many 'small riders' bring the remains of gingerbread to their favourite horses.
Birds are also remembered. In yards and gardens and on city balconies sheaves of oats are put out. They are welcomed by our winged friends, who often have insufficient food during the cold, snowy season.
Christmas time comes to an end after New Year. Christmas decorations are collected and put away for the next year. Christmas trees are taken to the yard for the bin men to dispose .
Many families keep their Christmas cards. The Finnish postal services deliver around 50 million cards every year. Fortunately, e-mail and mobile phone messages have not yet replaced warm Christmas greetings from friends on.