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This blog is about my Comenius experience in Finland

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: yle.fi, dd 10/12/2011