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This blog is about my Comenius experience in Finland

Lucia brings light to dark December

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, December 13, 2011 08:25:37
Tuesday is Santa Lucia Day, the festival of lights. According to tradition, Lucia, a young woman dressed in white and wearing a crown of candles, brings light during the darkest time of the year.

This year, 19 year-old Nora Peltola from Vihti was voted in as the national Lucia during a charity fund drive.

She will be crowned by Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson at the Helsinki Cathedral at 5pm. After her coronation, she will descend the steps of the Cathedral and lead a procession towards the city centre. Many other towns and schools also select their own Lucia.

Over the next weeks and months, these young women and their entourages visit hospitals, retirement homes, prisons, orphanages and schools, bringing light, song -- as well as buns and coffee.

Schools also have their own Lucia Day celebrations. Since there can only be one Lucia at school, many little girls, wearing store-bought plastic crowns, stage their own Lucia processions at home for their families.

The Lucia tradition can be traced back to St. Lucia, an Italian martyr who died in 303 A.D.

The Nordic Lucia tradition began in the 18th century in Sweden. In the 1900s, the tradition spread to the Åland Islands and to other Swedish-speaking regions in Finland.

From:, dd 12/11/2011

Northern Lights

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Tue, December 13, 2011 08:21:41

Finnish Northern Lights become YouTube hit

Northern Lights in Sodankylä on October 23.

The Finnish Tourist Board says its videos of Finland’s Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) have been watched over a million times on YouTube over the past two weeks.

”We’re really pleased by the success of these videos,” says the organisation's director general, Jakko Lehtonen, who points out that Norway has attempted to brand Northern Lights as its own national phenomenon.

The elusive, beautiful Northern Lights are most likely spotted in the fells of Finland’s far north.

The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory studies Northern Lights, forecasting where the colourful streaks are best seen.

“While the likelihood of spotting Northern Lights is greater on Norway’s northern coast than in central Lapland, it’s often cloudier and rainier on the coast,” says geophysicist Tero Raita of Oulu University.

From:, dd 12/11/2011

Finland’s child murder rate highest in the West

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, December 11, 2011 20:48:08

More children are killed in Finland than in any other western country, according to the Sunday newspaper supplement Sunnuntaisuomalainen. Finland has especially high statistics on the number of fatal assaults on under one-year-olds.

Some 50,000 children each year suffer some form of assault from their parents. Children are most often killed by mothers afflicted by mental problems.

According to research led by child psychiatrist Anne Kauppi, about 200 children in Finland lost their lives at the hands of their parents in 1970-1994. Risk factors in such cases include self-destructive behaviours among parents, their heavy use of alcohol and domestic violence.

However, in the last 50 years the risk to be killed by parents has declined due to abortion law, increased welfare and support for families.

In the last few years, the number of cases has nonetheless risen.

Kauppi says that mothers and fathers need more tangible help.

From:, dd 11/12/2011

Christmas "excesses" criticized a century ago

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Sun, December 11, 2011 20:47:01

Finnish Christmas traditions are a mixture of many cultures and many different historical periods. Not all of the customs or decorations that most Finns consider traditional are even very old. However, some old traditions have survived and even strengthened — among them, criticism of the excesses of the season.

The typical Finnish Christmas these days is marked by an abundance of food, drink, song and gifts. Food and drink, especially, have always been an important part of the holiday. In past centuries, the daily diet was simple and plain, and so a real effort was made to set a festive table during the holidays, according to Kari-Paavo Kokki, director of the Heinola Museum.

"Even the very poorest of families aimed at making sure bellies were full at Christmas. There were critics of excesses at Christmas, of food and of overly expensive gifts already, I think, at the beginning of the 1900s."

Sweets are a integral part of Christmas today. The shelves of supermarkets groan with the weight of chocolates of all kinds. Once upon a time, the custom was to fill a table with homemade sweets.

"Sweets tables started to be common in upper-class homes in the early 1800s. They included different kinds of candied fruits, raisins, marzipans and meringues. These tables were kept stocked for the whole of the Christmas holiday season, and this is a custom that has survived in Finnish homes," explains Kokki.

Christmas cards still popular

One more old tradition that is still very much alive and well, even in today's wired world, is the sending of Christmas cards.

Christmas cards came into popular use in the 1880s in Finland. At first they were all imported from abroad, mainly from Sweden and Germany. The early ones might not today even be recognized as Christmas cards at all.

"They were, for example, pictures of flowers. The themes began to take on a Christmas flavour in the early part of the 1900s. That is when the elves and Santa and sleigh rides by Jenny Nyström [Swedish artist, 1854 - 1946] began appearing. Those have continued in use right up to our day."

The traditions of the Finnish style of celebrating Christmas were portrayed in the works of Martta Wendelin (1893 - 1986).

"Through her cards and book covers, she created for us an image of the traditional Finnish Christmas, the kind of Christmas we all want to have. Her cards are still very popular and are reprinted over and over again," says Kari-Paavo Kokki.

From:, dd 10/12/2011

Finns prefer red wine at Christmas

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Wed, December 07, 2011 14:18:12

Finnish mulled wine is flavoured with cinnamon

Red wine is Finns’ favoured yuletide tipple. According to the state-run alcohol monopoly Alko, red wine sales usually increase by 50 percent in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

The fortnight before December 25 sees more than 1.5 million litres of red wine taken home from Alko stores, while sales of white and sparkling wine can be expected to rise by between 70 and 75 percent.

Christmas is also a good time for cognac producers. Sales of three star VS cognac are three times higher than normal at this time of year, VSOP cognac sales are expected to be six times greater than usual, and high-grade XO cognac sales experience a seven-fold increase. Altogether around 200,000 litres of cognac are sold in the run-up to Christmas, and the most popular grade is VS cognac.

Alko also expects to sell some 580,000 litres of ready-mixed Finnish mulled wine, or glögi, over the festive season.

From:, dd 07/12/2011

Independence Day 6/12

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Mon, December 05, 2011 17:01:20

Finland closes down for Independence Day

Finland celebrates Independence Day on Tuesday. The public holiday brings changes to public transport and opening hours.

Shops, Alko liquor stores, banks and post offices will keep their doors closed on Tuesday. Long-distance train services will run on Sunday timetables on Tuesday. For more information, see the state railways VR website. Local transport also runs according to Sunday timetables.

The traditional Finnish independence day celebrations in Helsinki start with a torchlit procession of students from Hietaniemi Cemetery to the Senate Square at 5pm. Similar events are held in other Finnish cities.

The President’s Independence day reception will begin at 7pm, with live TV coverage on YLE TV, radio and online. The reception and students’ procession will cause disruption to traffic from around 6pm in central Helsinki.

The Finnish parliament declared independence on 6 December 1917. Before that, the country had been part of Sweden, and later became a Grand Duchy in the Russian empire.

From:, dd 05/12/2011

Show me the way to the next pikkujoulu

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Wed, November 30, 2011 15:03:13
By Russell Snyder

During the weeks preceding Christmas, Finland seems overrun by party fever. This phenomenon is called the pikkujoulu (pre-Christmas party) season.

Years ago, when I walked into a December party, a smiling, young woman greeted me by putting a warm drink in my hand. It resembled glühwein, a mild winter concoction I sometimes had when living in Germany. The drink was so refreshing that I took several more. The rest of the night turned out rather blurry because that “harmless” drink they called glögi was spiked with vodka. A friend called me the next morning, and when told him I had a terrible headache, he laughed knowingly and said, “Welcome to the pikkujoulu season!”

The roots of the Finnish pre-Christmas party go back to celebrations of Advent during the 1800s. In the 1920s and ’30s students turned these celebrations into parties, and after the Second World War, the pre-Christmas party started catching on with the general population. Nowadays, almost every company, business, organisation and club holds its own pikkujoulu. The word means “little Christmas,” implying a head start on the holiday season. The simplest form may include non-spiked mulled wine, gingerbread cookies and sandwiches, and last only a couple of hours. The most extravagant pikkujoulu might take place on a cruise to Sweden with cabins, meals, drinks and sightseeing all included. However, the average party is somewhere in between, depending on the budget.

Eat, drink and be merry

The Christmas season forms a time to celebrate with friends, family, coworkers and customers.

A typical pikkujoulu will include an abundance of Christmas food. I’ve been to a party with a whole roasted pig and a couple of huge, smoked salmons in the middle of the room waiting for hungry revellers. A grand buffet seems to be the preferred pre-Christmas fare, but for the more upscale celebrations, nothing less than a fancy sit-down meal will do.

As for entertainment, there will always be festive speeches, which are often followed by jokes or humorous sketches, and then some mock awards will be given out. After that, song books are passed out and happy Christmas hits are sung in Finnish, English or Swedish. Christmas karaoke has become quite popular, and any performer will garner hardy applause, no matter how terrible they sound. Then there could be a band, a stand-up comedian, a magician or a funny play. Of course every decent pikkujoulu must have a Santa Claus to give out little gag gifts.

For some attendees who seem to have an endless thirst, one of the main attractions of these parties is the alcoholic beverages. After enough liquid courage has been consumed, unsociable people suddenly become friendly, shy people tell off-colour jokes, cautious people may offer the boss some unsolicited advice, or someone may confess his or her romantic feelings for an unsuspecting coworker. All this behaviour will be forgotten the next day – or at least it won’t be talked about.

Important economic consequences

Businesses and organisations often hold their pre-Christmas parties in fancy restaurants or hotels.

With so many of these parties taking place during the Advent season, it has become a vital time for the hospitality business. Restaurants, hotels, resorts, clubs and other venues compete for pikkujoulu custom. Some put together attractive party packages well in advance, others offer discounts for large groups. Taxis and private limousines also enjoy greatly increased revenue, as do hairdressers, fashion shops and perhaps pharmacies (on the day after).

These days, Finns are not satisfied to attend just one pikkujoulu. Many will go to several or even a dozen different parties: some to socialise with colleagues, others to celebrate with friends and still others to network. The best advice, especially if you’re attending multiple events, is to count your drinks, watch your calories and avoid doing anything you’ll regret the next day.


Downshifting reinforces traditional gender roles

Finland, Finns, FinnishPosted by Sylvie Hendrickx Fri, November 25, 2011 21:01:53

Preparing a meal in the kitchen, circa 1946.

Up to 40 percent of working parents are exhausted, according to a fresh study by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). Feeling overburdened, some are downshifting their careers to work less and enjoy life more—but the trend may also send women back into the kitchen.

Downshifiting—a form of voluntary simplicity—is limited to those with discretionary income, according to THL researcher Johanna Lammi-Taskula.

“If your living standard is already low, there’s nowhere to step down from,” she says.

Well-educated women seem to find downshifting the most appealing. But trading the rat race for a quieter life may bite women in years to come. Withdrawing from the office could mean more work at home, especially in families with children, say researchers. Women still bear the brunt of household chores, and studies have shown that conventional gender roles are often reinforced when children are born into a family.

“When you turn down demanding positions, the same opportunity may not come around again,” says Leena Linnainmaa, deputy director general at the Finnish Central Chamber of Commerce.

Simpler, quieter lives also fail to impress the pro-business group EVA.

Matti Apunen of the organisation says downshifting is a road for the lazy and hedonistic.

“Personal comfort becomes a norm. But people don’t just work for themselves—it's also for the good of society,” he says. “The labour force finances the lives of those unable to work.”

From:, dd 23/11/2011

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