The days are getting darker, the temperatures colder and the expectation for snow higher… As we approach Christmas and the year’s shortest day, the city around us is changing… including having masses of flags and candles on display (but more about that later).

The presidential palace lit up in winter (image courtesy of yle.fi)

 

One of the things that we started noticing in October already was that the city was already preparing for winter. First, most private boats were removed from the harbours, then fountains were drained, then the “Ei talvikunnossapitoa” (= no winter maintenance) signs started going up. Last weekend I noticed that tall brightly-coloured poles were being installed around some pathways – to indicate where snow should be cleared from, I think. The flower garden in Karhupuisto was even dug up and removed.  But the temperatures have stayed high (compared with last year it is 20°C warmer – see here), and we only had our first snow earlier this week (see the news bulletin here – but it had melted away within a few hours). So we wait for the cold… Brigitte and I are particularly impatient because we want our local ice-rink to be opened. But since it is an outdoor rink (just some water sprayed on a sportsfield?), the temperatures will have to be a lot colder before that’s going to happen!

One of our local antique stores completely altered its main window for Independence Day, commemorating one of the many fallen Finnish soldiers

 

The 6th of December is an important day in Finland – this year we joined the celebration of Finland’s 94th anniversary  of independence. It is a public holiday and – like many public holidays here – the proceeding day is treated as a half-day by many (although this year many people took leave on the Monday to have a long weekend). It is an important national celebration – Finland seems to be a country that is very aware of (and thankful for) its independence. It was refreshing to see how much so many Finns appreciate their country’s independence, and how aware much of the country is of the suffering their country has experienced. In honour of this special day, Google had a special “doodle” on Finland’s Google site that I thought was particularly appropriate (see news here).

There are a lot of traditions associated with Independence day here – just to mention some of the main ones:

  • Two candles are lit and placed in a window at 6 pm – the origins of this tradition are not 100% clear, ranging from an  “[invitation to] friendly troops into the home for food and shelter” (here) to “as a silent protest against perceived Russian oppression” (here). Either way, it is now done  “marking the sacrifices of former generations” (here).
  • There is a ceremonial raising of the Finnish flag at the observatory (Tähtitorninmäki) in Kaivopuisto, which has occurred annual since 1957.
  • YLE broadcasts the film adaptation of The Unknown Soldier – apparently everyone here has seen the movie at least five times.
  • A torchlight parade by students (this year from Hietaniemi cemetery to the presidential palace), as well as other events in memory of the country’s soldiers (wreaths laid at the grave of the Unknown Soldier in Hietaniemi cemetery).
  • Handing out of food to the poor at Hakaniemi by the Veikko and Lahja Hursti’s Charitable Association.

Two candles in the window on itsenäisyypäivä (image courtesy of novita.fi)

 

The Presidental Reception requires a special mention however – each year the president invites approximately 2000 Finnish notables to join her at the presidential palace for an Independence Day celebration (the Linnan Juhlat = the Castle Celebration). For those not invited, the national broadcaster covers the event in much detail – with roughly half of Finland’s population watching the event live. There is a long procession, as each guest enters and is greeted by the president – we felt rather sorry for Tarja Halonen this year because she looked rather tired after welcoming the first 1000 guests! You can read about the flower arrangements, musical entertainment, and other logistics here at the presidency’s website. The event felt like the “Oscars” of Finland, with the TV presenters commenting on the outfits of the guests (see for example here). It seems that the outfit that generated the most interest this year was that of  Teija Vesterbacka – the wife of Rovio (i.e. Angry Birds) founder Peter Vesterbacka. Her dress actually had an “Angry Bird” on it (see here)! It was also interesting to note how small Finnish social circles are – the group we were watching with had fairly direct links to at fair number of the guests!

At the presidential reception (image courtesy of suomenkuvalehti.fi)

 

It was a great day – next year on 6 December I’ll happily be saying “Hyvaa itsenäisyyspäivä” to all the Finns!