Finnish traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Finland?

Finland (suomi) as a nation has existed for not long. However, it has always been inhabited by people who have forged centuries-old traditions and varied customs.


Food in daily life

Milk is prominent in the diet as a beverage and the staple ingredient in a variety of curdled, sour, and cultured forms; in broths used for soups, stews and puddings; and in special regional dishes such as ‘cheese bread’ (‘juustoleipä’). There are notable differences between western and eastern Finland in bread making and in the way milk is made bitter.

A large midday meal in a rural household might include fish baked in rye bread (“leipäkukko”), potatoes (“peruna”), barley bread (“rieska”), cheese (“juusto”), pickled beetroot («punajuuri»), blackberries in sauce, milk and coffee.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Coffee is a “national drink” that mediates the distinction between the rural interior and the urban industrial to the south. At the beginning of the 19th century, coffee was an imported and expensive drink consumed by the aristocracy, but it has been incorporated into all strata of society.

It is the center of the ubiquitous ‘coffee ceremony’, a ritualized display of hospitality, elegance and self-control in which abundant and delicate pastries are served.

Commercially produced sausage (“makkara”), which became increasingly common in the diet after the 1950s, represents a relatively recent shift toward large-scale food processing industries.

Abhorred by nutritionists for its high fat and sodium content, and ridiculed and despised in popular jokes and legends, the sausage is nonetheless regarded as a versatile convenience food.

Like coffee, it may appear as a common festival food on occasions such as the summer solstice (“juhannus”), along with cheese bread, potato patties (“perunapiirakka”), leavened coffee bread (“pulla »), beer and vodka.

Mämmi, a brown malted oatmeal, is typically served at Easter. Sima (a kind of mead), talouskalja (homemade beer), and viilia (sour whole milk) can also be served on special occasions.


Finns have a self-conception and reputation for being reserved and sparing of words. Small talk is not valued. Consequently, words and verbal promises are likely to be taken seriously.

To a certain extent, he is a public and formal person who is contradicted by the intimacy and fickle conversation that good friends and family share. The sauna is a remarkable context in which people are more open and expressive.

The rapid expansion of mobile phones, computers, and other communication technologies is creating a highly interconnected society, regardless of the nature of interpersonal interactions and behavior. Finland has one of the highest per capita Internet and mobile phone usage in the world.

Finns value educational degrees and other qualifications and can expect to be awarded the appropriate degree in professional or work settings. In recent years, there has been something of a resurgence in traditional etiquette conventions that require the use of the second person plural as a formal means of expression.

The second personal singular is appropriate for addressing family, friends, and children. The mutual use of given names implies a close personal relationship.

The usual greeting involves a firm handshake, direct eye contact, and perhaps a slight nod, but rarely hugging or kissing. As a result of women’s participation in politics and public life, relations between men and women are relatively equal. Condescending attitudes towards women are rarely tolerated.

While the social acceptance of intoxication is declining among young people and the legal penalties for driving under the influence are severe, the Finns have a reputation for binge drinking on weekends.

This pattern is more prominent among men and, to the extent that it disrupts family life, retards the social progress achieved by women. Although per capita alcohol consumption is about average in Europe, Finns have relatively high rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related social and medical problems.


Holidays and traditions

The traditions and festivals in Finland are a perfect mix of its pagan and Christian customs. Their Christmas follows the tradition of Christmas trees and Advent calendars. Finnish Christmas begins on December 23 and ends after December 26. Gifts are given on Christmas Eve, and people eat on Christmas Day, followed by the sauna.

Easter in Finland is a mixture of pagan and Christian customs. Children usually dress up and go around handing out daffodils from door to door and getting sweets in return on Holy Saturday or Palm Sunday. One of the pagan traditions of the Easter weekend is the burning of bonfires to keep witches away. The exchange of daffodils for candy resembles the Halloween party.

A sauna is a dry steam bath that is very popular in Finland. Saunas have a proto-Finnish origin dating back to 7,000 years ago. The purpose of saunas is to bathe while the heat helps to cleanse and open the pores of the skin.

secular celebrations

Kekri, a traditional festival at the end of the harvest season in rural communities, lost importance as Christmas came to dominate festive life in city and urban settings, but old Kekri customs such as tin smelting to predict the future, they continue to occur in the context of Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Although Easter retains more of its religious character than other church holidays, a new Easter custom emerged in the 1980s in which children dress up as witches, carry willow twigs, and travel from house to house in search of treats. Apparently, the phenomenon of the Easter witch combines ritual elements from older Scandinavian and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The summer solstice celebrates the peak incidence of light at the summer solstice, a time when towns and cities are deserted by lakeside cottages and farms, where bonfires are lit, food and drinks are shared among friends and relatives, and the national flag is waved.

Other important national holidays are Independence Day (December 6), Vappu (May First), and Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May).

Arts and Humanities


Finnish culture is known for its runic singing (folk poetry) traditions, which were synthesized in the Kalevala, a powerful symbol of national identity. Aleksis Kivi’s 1870 novel Seitsemän Veljestä (“Seven Brothers”), an unromantic portrayal of the struggle to clear virgin forest, furthered the development of Finnish as a literary language.

That novel helped fuel a growing national consciousness and became a source of inspiration in many areas of the arts. Influences from late-19th-century Scandinavian and Russian literature reinforced a tendency toward realism and social criticism, as evidenced by Minna Canth’s depictions of women and the poor and Juhani Aho’s treatment of emotional experience.

Despite the wishes of the neo-romanticists, a strong realist current infused literature at the beginning of the 20th century. This is seen in Ilmari Kianto’s tragic portrayal of a tenant farming family’s struggles during the prohibition years of the 1920s, Ryysyrannan Jooseppi (Joseph of Ragged Shore) (1924), and in the evocations of the winner of the Nobel Laureate FE Sillanpää for rural landscapes that dominate or dwarf human actors.

Versatile recent novelists and prose writers have emerged from these roots, including Väinö Linna, Antti Tuuri, and Olli Jalonen. The tradition of depicting ordinary people in familiar social settings has continued, although helplessness, anxiety, and other psychological states have become prominent in contemporary literature.

Graphic arts

Innovative functionalist movements have distinguished architecture and the design of furniture, ceramics, glass, and textiles. Finnish design’s reputation for combining local artistic themes with tools and materials adapted to demanding northern conditions was established at international fairs and exhibitions in the early 20th century.

Similar innovations in industrial design since the 1960s are seen in protective equipment, forestry machinery, recreational clothing, sporting goods, and electronics. The field of contemporary visual arts is complex and evolving.

As in architecture and design in general, a concern with the forces, shapes, colors, and textures of the northern landscape and the human relationship with nature has strongly influenced painting, sculpture, and other forms of art. This is particularly evident in the romantic representational art that flourished in the late 19th century.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Great Black Woodpecker (1893) and his many paintings interpreting the Kalevala are exemplary. Abstract art movements did not take hold until the 1950s.

In recent years, however, graphic artists have experimented with innovative image production processes and multimedia technologies to create new art forms that sometimes serve as critiques of society and technology. In addition to a nationwide network of museums organizing exhibitions, a new Museum of Contemporary Art (KIASMA) has opened in Helsinki.

Performing arts

The Kalevala had an impact on musical performance. Composer Jean Sibelius drew inspiration from this source to compose his Kullervo symphony in the early 1890s, and his life and work later became important symbols of national identity.

Opera gained a significant foothold with the staging of a festival at Savonlinna’s 15th-century Olavinlinna Castle between 1912 and 1916. That festival was revived in the 1960s, heralding a revival of opera in the 1970s and 1980s that has continued up to the present.

Operas based on specific historical events or themes, such as The Last Temptations and The Red Line, have resonated with Finnish audiences.

Finland has about thirty symphony orchestras and a dozen major festivals offering classical, folk and contemporary music, as well as opera. Theater is another area with a rich history and a vibrant experimental present.

There are about sixty institutional theaters, most in the larger cities and towns, and outdoor summer theater is often intertwined with community festival life in smaller towns and rural locales where amateur troupes predominate. Plays based on the novels by Aleksis Kivi and Väinö Linna are a popular part of the repertoire in those settings.

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