Christmas in Finland can be quite enchanting if you spend it in Lapland where there will be snow. Sometimes Finland will have a lovely snow coverage all around the country at the end of December, but due to global warming white Christmasses are getting more and more rare in the southern parts of Finland. Therefore Lapland is the best destination for the holidays. Christmas in Finland includes many nature-related traditions and it is also the perfect time for fun nature activities.
December is the darkest time of the year in Finland and it is probably for that reason why the holidays are so enchanting here. In Finland Christmas Eve is the main event of the holidays, and that is when Santa Claus comes with his presents. Christmas time officially begins on the eve and ends on Epiphany. Here is an overview to nature related traditions and activities connected to the Finnish Christmas.
Table of contents:
- Christmas in Finland includes many nature-related traditions
- Ice and snow lanterns and Christmas logs
- Getting a Christmas tree from the forest
- Declaration of Christmas peace
- Feeding birds
- Horse sleigh ride to the church
- Nature activities for the holidays
- Cross-country skiing
- Snowshoeing in the forest
- Ice-skating on a frozen lake
- Husky or reindeer sledge ride
Christmas in Finland includes many nature-related traditions
Naturally everyone has their own kind of way to celebrate Christmas. For most of us it means spending time with our family, eating well, visiting church or cemetery, going to sauna, and Santa bringing presents. We also have several traditions that are connected to nature.
Ice and snow lanterns and Christmas logs
Ice or snow lanterns are made to light up the darkness outside and getting into Christmas spirit. Snow and cold temperatures are a great opportunity to have fun outdoors and decorate the yard with lanterns. Christmas log is the most traditional way of lighting the yard.
Simple ice lanterns are made by filling a bucket with water and leaving it outside for 3-15 hours. In temperatures from -5 to -15 degrees celcius the bucket will usually be suitably frozen during one night. Then in the morning you check the bucket and if the water is partly frozen, place the bucket upside down and pour the remaining water out of the bucket. The ice lantern comes out of the bucket, usually with a hole at the top. Place a candle inside the lantern and it’s ready. If it’s really cold such as -20 degrees or more, do not keep the buckets outside over night but rather make the lanterns during few hours during a day. The ice in the bucket might freeze completely and break the bucket, if left for too long in cold temperatures. You may also add natural colorings such as beetroot juice in the water to color the lanterns. Or even some old flowers if you are feeling creative.
Snowlanterns can be made from snowballs only when the snow has enough water in it. In cold temperatures you cannot form a snowball from the snow. Best weather would be +1 or warmer when the snow becomes slushy. Then you are able to form snowballs and place them on top of each other like a pyramid. After lighting the candle inside the snow lantern, you can close the top with a final ball or alternatively leave the top open. Bigger the lantern the better, since the heat from the candle might collapse your lantern. Remember to collect the candles used in the lanterns and recycle them according to their materials instead of leaving them in the nature.
Christmas logs in Finland are traditionally made out of dry pine tree logs. Usually you would saw the log to approximately 70 centimeters high, cut a cross to the top part of the log, and drill a small hole to the bottom to allow it to get air for the fire. The log is placed far away from buildings and trees so that there is no risk for the fire to spread before lighting it. Lighting the fire to the log may require some wood chips or charcoal lighter fluid at the beginning, but once the fire is on, the log will burn for several hours.
Getting a Christmas tree from the forest
The Finnish Christmas tree tradition originates in Germany and it is strongly connected to the reformation. The trees became popular in Finland in the 19th century. Sometimes the Christmas trees were hanging from ceiling in order not to take away any floor space in crowded cottages. At first the trees were bare, later decorated by apples. Decorations soon became symbols of wealth. Real candles made the trees a fire hazard.
In our family we usually go get the tree and decorate it a day or two before the Christmas eve. In cities people buy the tree from a market, usually real spruce and not the plastic one, and in the countryside people get it from their own or neighbour’s forest. Choosing the right size of tree that fits the living room and has brances evenly on all sides is granpa’s speciality. Kids love to take part in this tradition, and also decorating the tree. If there is plenty of snow on the trees in the forest, it might be good to get the tree few days in advance and let it melt in a garage or bathroom before placing it to the living room.
Some might criticize that cutting so many trees only for few days is not sustainable, and that replacing it with a plastic tree that lasts for years would actually be better for the nature. I think people do need to consider what option suits them best, and also how to get rid of the real tree on the Epiphany if they decide to get a real one. Too many trees are thrown out next to the garbage bins in hopes that the garbage truck would collect them and get rid of them for you. That is not the proper way of recycling the tree. In the countryside this is not any issue since most houses have wood burning saunas and fireplaces and the trees would just be left out to dry to be cut and burned later. But recycling has to be done properly also in the cities. There are places that accept trees as energy waste. Horse stables sometimes accept trees as donations since horses like to chew spruce brances.
Declaration of Christmas peace
Every year at noon on Christmas Eve the Christmas Peace is declared from the city of Turku. This tradition has continued since the 14th century. The declaration is broadcasted on the TV and radio and it marks the beginning of the holidays.
Tomorrow, God willing,
is the graceful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour;
and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advising devotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully,
because he who breaks this peace and violates the peace of Christmas by any illegal or improper behaviour shall under aggravating circumstances be guilty and punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offence separately.
Finally, a joyous Christmas feast is wished to all inhabitants of the city.
The peace declaration is intended for all animals as well. While moose and deer hunting is ongoing in December, for the holidays all respectful hunters leave wild animals alone and stop hunting activities.
At the old days people in the countryside would give sheaf of oat for birds to eat. In this Scandinavian tradition farmer would store the sheaf at time of harvest and take it outside for birds at Christmas. It was believed that it would bring good luck for the farmer the following year, and that the birds would then leave his fields alone during growing season. Ancient Finns also believed that some birds were carrying the souls of the deceased, and they wanted the birds to take part in celebration. This bird feeding tradition is the reason why you still see many cards and other decorations with oat bundles. Today birds are fed throughout the winter until snow melts, not only during the holidays. Birds love especially sunflower seeds and crushed nuts.
Horse sleigh ride to the church
When horses used to be the main mode of transportation in the countryside in Finland, families used to go to the Christmas church on the horse sleigh. The sleigh is like a carriage but instead of wheels it has wooden runners underneath as there was a lot of snow. At Christmas time the sleigh was decorated with bells. Horses were Finnhorse breed that were also used in agricultural and forestry work as well as in the wars. The church began early in the morning so the horse sleigh departed in the darkness of the night in order to make it to the church on time. Kids had be tucked under covers since the ride was freezing cold.
Nature activities for the holidays
During the holidays we usually spent plenty of time with family and friends, playing board games, relaxing and eating well. But after all that eating I want to head outside to excercise. Here are some activities that you can do outside in winter. Remember that daylight hours are very limited, especially in Lapland, so you should plan your outdoor activities accordingly.
Cross-country skiing as a fun way to exercise out in the nature during the holidays. There are numerous skiing tracks throughout the country as long as there is snow on the ground, and they can in most cases be accessed free of charge. If the snow coverage allows, you can also ski without any tracks on the snow. This is referred as off-track or wilderness skiing on the unbroken snow. It requires good fitness level but it is absolutely awesome way to explore the nature. Skiing on a snow-covered frozen lake is easy also for a beginner. Enjoying hot glögi, spiced wine, after the skiing is the icing on the cake.
Read more about cross-country skiing in Finland: My secret spot for cross-country skiing in Lohja, Finland
Snowshoeing in the forest
Have you ever tried snowshoeing? It’s a fun activity where you can access snowy forests, fells and bogs with ease sustainably. Snowshoeing is probably easier than you might expect. It doesn’t take much skill as it resembles normal walking. You can use ski poles to help you balance if you want. Snowshoeing isn’t extremely heavy even in thick snow, unlike trying to move forward without them. But you will sweat for sure!
Read more about snowshoeing: Snowshoeing in the Meiko wilderness
Ice-skating on a frozen lake
Ice-skating is extremely fun but definitely harder than skiing or snowshoeing. Ice-skating on a frozen lake requires the lake to be clean from the snow, so it cannot be done if the snow coverage is too thick. When the conditions are right and there is no snow on the surface of the ice, ice skating is a stunning way to see nature. You can cover long distances with skates. For a first-timer ice-skating can be challenging though.
Husky or reindeer sledge ride
Husky or reindeers sledge rides in the nature are also a entertaining activity to experience if you are spending the holidays in Lapland. And in case you are not into the sledge rides, you can always go and pet the reindeers. If they are not busy delivering the gifts with Santa, that is.
With this post we would like to wish you all a wonderful Christmas time!
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