Families gather together on Christmas Eve which is the most important day of the year in Finland. Most children who have grown up and moved away from home plan to return to their parents home for the holiday. The shops across the nation close at noon so everyone has to have their shopping done by that time.
At the stroke of noon the "Peace of Christmas" is proclaimed in Turku, the former capital of Finland, Some of the Christmas readings heard on the broadcast date from the Middle Ages. This marks the "official" beginning of the Christmas celebrations and most families enjoy the first part of their Christmas meal at this point.
Around 5 p.m., families go to the churchyard, for a special service where candles are placed on the graves of departed loved ones. It's a breathtaking sight to see thousands of candles flickering in the Finnish twilight.
On Christmas Eve, children await the arrival of Father Christmas. He differs from his counterparts in other nations in that he actually enters the house for a visit at this time instead of during the night when the children are asleep. Father Christmas always asks the same question upon his arrival: "Are there any good children here?" The answer is always an enthusiastic "Yes".
The kindly gentleman has a basket filled with gifts and as his helpers distribute them, he tells about his journey from his home in Lapland and how he must hurry along to complete his rounds. After the children sing a final Christmas song, he moves on his way to visit other homes in the area.
Here is a report from Kalervo, a friend in Finland:
In my life I have always known that Santa Claus, Joulupukki in Finnish, is living in Lapland, in northern Finland. He lives at Korvatunturi, or Ear Mountain, near the Russian border. It was really a surprise to me when I learned there is a belief that his home is at the North Pole. Reindeers and elves are living in Lapland why would Santa live so far away from them?
Remembering the birds is a custom in rural areas of Scandinavia at Christmastime and is in keeping with the general tendency to try to share the festivities with all the animals so that the coming year will be a prosperous one. A sheaf of wheat or some other grain, or even just seeds and bread, is placed on a pole and set up outside where the birds are known to congregate.
The sight and sound of the outdoor festivity at the birds "Christmas tree" can add greatly to the zest and warmth of the indoor celebrations.
The picture on the right depicts the sheaf of grain along with Christmas greens and red ribbons tied to a streetlamp.
Here's a tradition found in an old book:
"In Finland, a heaven is a type of Christmas ornament. It is not one that is hung on the tree, however; it is hung in the center of the dining room ceiling. It is made up of brightly colored paper stars, paper baubles, little silver bells, flags, and other ornaments that will reflect the candlelight to form a festive setting for the Christmas banqueting."
Finland receives over a million letters each year addressed to Santa Claus. Finnish entrepreneurs have built a Santa complex near the Arctic Circle complete with a Santa Claus University and an indoor amusement park.
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