Christmas is one of the year's main holidays in Finland, which is, after all, the home of Santa Claus. And Finns enjoy the Advent season leading up to Christmas, as well, as strings of lights and decorated shop windows brighten up the dark winter days. Follow these seven Finnish tips for enjoying a festive but relaxed month before Christmas!
There's a range of options. First, the paper variety with doors to open each day of December, revealing a new picture behind. The Finnish Scouts have sold these calendars for decades as a major fundraiser for the organization. Second, the type with a piece of chocolate behind each door. Or third, a homemade calendar, or at least one loaded with hand selected gifts. Marimekko has gotten in on the game with pocketed fabric wall hangings, matchboxes make fun tiny containers for each day, or string up a garland of gingerbread cookies and eat one each day.
Finns don't mess around with dozens of different varieties, this one will do. Bake them as soon as the calendar turns to December - it'll put you in a Christmas mood and you're done baking until Christmas Eve. Traditional recipes make huge batches and the cookies last well. No decoration necessary, either - easy!
It's traditional to do a major housecleaning before Christmas, but don't worry - this tradition is going out of style. The home economics experts at the Finnish Marthas organization recommend a practical approach. As they say: "Only clean the cupboards if you're planning to spend Christmas in them!"
Finnish Independence Day, December 6, falls during the Christmas season. Time to light blue and white candles and sit in front of the television watching the Finnish equivalent of the red carpet - the president's Independence Day reception. Hundreds of guests file in to shake the president's hand, and an eager nation watches to see who was there and what they wore. The reception is streamed live for curious viewers around the world. Watch last year's reception at http://areena.yle.fi/1-2406479.
Does anyone drink anything else in Finland in December? Bring home a quart-sized carton of spiced juice, warm it up, and add almonds and raisins. Spike as desired, and debate with your friends and family on whether whole or slivered almonds are better. Abroad you'll need to make your glögi from scratch - or swing by Ikea!
On December 13, the Swedish-speaking communities of Finland elect a teenaged girl to represent St. Lucia in parades, church services and concerts. Finns mostly just watch. So find a Swedish-American event and tag along!
Finns start celebrating early with pikkujoulut - "Little Christmas" parties. With all the time you're saving not baking a dozen varieties of cookies, invite a handful of friends over for a low-key evening. Break out the glögi and the gingerbreads. Do a $10 gift exchange, if you must. Don't worry about decorations, either - a Finnish Christmas tree doesn't need to be up until Christmas Eve. Candlelight should do the trick!
Now you, too, have the tools to survive the darkest month of the year and the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle! And remember that a typical Finnish Christmas greeting is Rauhallista joulua - Peaceful Christmas!