One of the Finnish Christmas traditions that has surprised us most is the pikkujoulu (“small Christmas”) – the office Christmas party. According to one source, the tradition originates from Germany and Sweden in the 1800’s, before being taken-up by Finnish students (see here). Apparently after the first World War the tradition became firmly rooted here, often associated with the start of Advent (so says Wikipedia).
But irrespective of it’s origin, pikkujoulut are now a major part of the year’s calendar in Finland. Don’t underestimate the magnitude of pikkujoulu – there are all sort of special offers for corporate parties around, and the frequency of late night transport links has been increased to accommodate the extra passengers.
Pikkujoulut (or maybe the whole pikkujoulu season) seem to be really important for breaking the gloom of winter (especially in years like this where there isn’t much snow in November and December), and filling the events gap from autumn to Christmas. A friend recently, though, suggested another factor that may be important – that companies risk upsetting (and ultimately losing) employees if they don’t make an all out effort to give them a great year-end party. I can’t imagine getting upset with my employer due to a cheap or boring December social function, but I guess that just reflects how seriously the annual pikkujoulu is taken?
The pikkujoulut season is also important commercial period – you can read a bit about that in two of Helsingin Sanomat’s articles here and here. In short, if you are in the party business, it’s the time of the year that you make money!
And what about our first pikkujoulu experiences?
My whole faculty celebrated its pikkujoulu together two Fridays ago – a Medieval-themed party for 500 people. Like Brigitte’s party, is was a no-partners event – but that kind of makes sense because I don’t know where any extra people would have fitted. We had a good meal in the campus cafeteria (roast beef and veggies), and then returned to our building for pudding (a type of apple pie) and sporadic entertainment by two acrobats, sparring knights, a snake-charming belly-dancer, and a band comprised of faculty staff (although I’m not sure about that). A pleasant evening all in all – although next time I’ll take the theme a little more seriously and try to find a suitable outfit.
The company where Brigitte is working stepped things up – they took their staff across to Tallin, sent them off to play paintball or lazergames, celebrated at a restaurant and then hosted an afterparty before putting everyone up for the night at a nice hotel. Wow – that’s a an impressive way to celebrate the end of the year!
You can read some more about pikkujoulu here (courtesy of This Is Finland – a great website) and here (“Finland for Thought” is an excellent blog) – with some other first-hand accounts by foreigners here and here.