Spending Christmas in Finland - food, traditions and culture

Christmas candle.
Photo: Tampere Universities

This is my third time experiencing the Finnish Christmas, and in this blog post, I am gonna share some of my passions and perspectives on one of the coolest seasons here.

The aroma of ginger, cinnamon, and apple indicate that all sorts of baking treats are available in a large table. It might be cold and dark outside, but inside the coziness coming from candles ensure that a Christmas perfume prevails. On the television, some carols involve you in a nice spirit, even if you do not understand the lyrics – “Joulu on taas, riemuitkaa nyt, lapsi on meille tänä yönä syntynyt”. The stomach, full with homemade Karelian pies and casseroles give to the equation an explosion of flavors and completeness. And if you are lucky, it might be a white Christmas: nothing can be better after a sauna than jumping over piles of snow.

For me, this is what Christmas in Finland feels like. My name is Raysa, and I am an international student from Brazil studying in the Leadership for Change master’s degree programme at Tampere University. This is my third time experiencing the Finnish Christmas, and in this blog post, I am gonna share some of my passions and perspectives on one of the coolest seasons here.

Before the big date – it is time for little Christmas celebrations, or “pikkujoulu”

One of the greatest events of Finnish Christmas culture is the celebrations that happen usually in the entire month of December, both at work places, among friends and at the university. These little Christmas celebrations, called “pikkujoulu”, usually consist of colleagues and friends united to drink some warm wine or mulled wine (glögi) and spend quality and fun time together.

Raysa sitting in Santa's lap.
In this picture, you see me seated in Santa Claus’ lap during a pikkujoulu party, which happens to be my friend Isabel with a costume.

Currently, with the COVID-19 restrictions, these celebrations mostly happened online, but still preserving most of the original spirit of being together to celebrate.

Traditional Finnish Christmas food – time to feast!

Christmas, like many holidays all around the world, are centered around eating. Although it might seem that Finns do not eat traditional Finnish food in their daily lives, everything changes when Christmas comes!

Finnish Christmas bakings.
Joulutorttu – a Christmas pie filled with jam.
Raysa making Karelian pies.
Me baking Karelian pies for the first time.

Cultural traditions of the Finnish Christmas

In Finland, the most important night is the Christmas eve of the 24th. Being from Brazil, it is the case of many families that the during-the-day dinner of the 25th is the most important time.

Another tradition in Finland common by the end of the year is the Christmas markets. Christmas markets are common all around Europe, and they are also present in Finland. This was a nice surprise for me, as until this day, I had never been in one in Brazil. In these markets you can usually ice-skate, drink some glögi and buy handcrafts and food treats.

Raysa in front of a Christmas tree.
Enjoying the Christmas market in Lahti in 2019.

Christmas in Finland is for everyone

Even if you are not religious, or even if you have other beliefs around the winter solstice, Finnish traditions can be easily incorporated in a secular way. The most important thing is to feel cosy, happy, and most importantly, full of tasty food!

Also, although the fact that I have a relationship with a Finnish person helps a lot into getting the full Christmas experience here, you don’t need a partner to get to celebrate Christmas in a Finnish way.

Homemade gingerbread!

If you are a prospective student, or if you already here but studying remotely or finding you way through new friends, you can follow these steps for adding a bit of Finland to your Christmas menu:

  • There are many restaurants that have special Christmas menus at the end of the year. Just stay tuned online to see when these special menus will happen!
  • If you are vegan, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I am too and I never went hungry, quite on the contrary. There are many vegan options of the very traditional dishes available in supermarkets, such as vegan ham, caviar and even the traditional casseroles. You can also adventure yourself in online recipes. In conclusion, Christmas in Finland is vegan-friendly.
  • You can listen to playlists of traditional Christmas carols in Finnish, you’ll find some in Spotify or YouTube! Here’s some music I recommend: Rauhallista joulua, Spotify playlist and Näin sydämeeni joulun teen, song on YouTube.
  • Convene with friends for pikkujoulu celebrations. If you like the idea, you can even organize pikkujoulu sessions online with friends from abroad.
  • Candles, candles and candles! Since in Finland it is so dark outside, a nice way to stay cosy and happy is by lightning many candles around the house. This is a habit that I pretty much learned in Finland, and recommend to everyone who wants to add a nice touch of coziness to their Christmas time.

If you want to know more about Christmas in Finland, or if you have any questions about the culture in Finland, life in Tampere and Tampere University, you can always ask me or another student at the Unibuddy platform! Free of charge!

– Raysa

Hello there! My name is Raysa and the most important piece of information you should know about me is that I am a friendly and easy-going person, so don’t be shy to be in touch with me to ask any questions you might have. I’m from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and I have been living in Finland for a year now. Before that, I was an exchange student at the University of Jyväskylä. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). I participate in many projects focused on feminism, social impact, student advocacy, and sustainability. In Brazil, I have worked in a museum, at the university, in a business school, and in a startup, always performing tasks related to sustainability. In my free time in Tampere, I like to explore vegan cuisine and I like to hang out with friends over beer and board games.