Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 23: Christmas in Finland

Advent card red baubles

Hyvää Joulua Suomesta!
Merry Christmas from Finland!

I’m so happy to be writing this article for Ana’s Advent Calendar 2015!  Just a year ago in December 2014, I moved from the US to Finland to be with my wife, Suzi.  Many exciting things have happened and I’ve been introduced to  new traditions & brought a few American ones to her family.

We celebrated with her family in Tampere, about 2 hours north of where we live ( in the Helsinki area near the Baltic Sea).  The Finns use a lot of potatoes here and my mother in law makes the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.  They also love macaroni casserole (makaroni laatikko)  and sweet potato & beef (bataati laatiko) premade casseroles here that are traditionally available at the stores.  They also make amazing pulla or sweet breads and rolls.  Some make them at home, but they’re available freshly made at most markets.

Mustamakkara is another Finnish food I tried for the first time in Tampere. It is a local favorite not eaten anywhere else than Tampere but free servings of the sausages are given out at Christmastime each year in the past few years. While not necessarily a Christmas tradition, it’s something that many locals either love or hate.  I’m not a huge fan, but I do like it a bit.

Another big traditional food at Christmas is rutabaga casserole.  It tastes much like regular potatoes and is a staple in their diet. It is quite similar in taste, in my opinion, to scalloped potatoes.

A favorite cookie of mine that I love to make is the Russian Tea Cake.  I made a large batch and took them with us to her parents’ home for the holidays. They liked them very much and I made them a few more times that spring after Christmas.

I also took my trumpet with me to their home and played some Christmas carols as we all sat in the living room together.  I understood very little Finnish at that point, but they were and still are so welcoming and kind.

During that visit to Tampere over Christmas, Suzi and I also attended a church service nearby where they had a Christmas hymn sing, all in Finnish, of course.  My Finnish vocabulary was very tiny at that point, but I could pronounce things well even if I had no idea what they meant.  It was a magical night there in that large old church.   Additionally, a Finnish tradition on Christmas Eve night is lighting candles in graveyards on graves of loved ones. It’s very powerful to witness. Standing there in the cold prior to the service that night, as we lit candles, held hands and said prayers for her loved ones, I was humbled.   It was sad, magical and beautiful all at once.

Finnish tradition also includes much coffee all the time, not just at Christmas.   Coffee is had at breakfast, morning break, afternoon break and after dinner, along with cookies, cakes and other sweet breads (pulla) etc.

A favorite Finnish dish of mine year round is fruit soup, or kiisseli.   It’s very easy to make and I think it was the first Finnish dish I made on my own. It consists of fresh or frozen fruit—usually strawberry, raspberry or blueberry, sometimes lingonberry—which is then boiled and potato starch is added, along with sweetener or vanilla sugar.  It is served with cream or vanilla sauce or regular milk.  My mother in law showed me how she liked to crumble up rye crackers and toss them in. The fruit mixture and cream soak into the cracker pieces and make for a lovely dessert any time.
When  I was growing up in America, we always had a tree and decorated it. Suzi’s parents had waited for us to arrive so that we could all decorate it together. It really meant a lot to me and I felt part of the family immediately.  Hanging up decorations and chatting with Suzi and her parents and brother & his wife, was a lovely way to spend part of an afternoon.

This year, Suzi and I will be celebrating on our own here at home and will be making our own traditions.  We have talked about what foods we might like to have and things we’d like to do.  I loved riding around as a kid as we looked at people’s Christmas light displays. I’m excited to do that here where we live this year.  Also, there is a church we will probably attend for Christmas Eve. We will most likely get a small tree to decorate together.  We love to have colored Christmas lights hanging year round here for night light purposes but also they’re very cheery.  And now, since the outside renovations are done at our apartment complex, we will have our enclosed balcony back for use right as holiday season begins.  We are anxious to put up some lights there and decorate it a bit more. We weren’t here much last Christmas and spent a lot of time in Tampere so this is our first Christmas at home together.

So perhaps next year, I can write another article talking more about how our Finnish and American traditions have merged even more!  Hyvää Joulua kaikille Suomesta!  (Merry Christmas to all from Finland!)

37 thoughts on “Ana’s Advent Calendar, Day 23: Christmas in Finland

  1. rozharrison says:

    I enjoyed reading this and learning a little about Finish traditions. Love the sound of some of the dishes…I love potatoes lol. Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad you had such a wonderful first Christmas in Finland last year and love how you blended both Finish and American traditions. Wishing you and your wife a wonderful Christmas in your own home this year 🙂


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Joelle Casteel says:

    Hehe potatoes- makes me think of the fight my mother and I had over mashed potatoes last Christmas; I wanted to make vegan mashed potatoes and that horrified her- she managed to miss that I didn’t care what people did to their potatoes once they were on their plates.

    Such wonderful traditions- thanks for sharing about them. The fruit soup sounds very interesting; I may have to find a recipe and try them, although I am with Irishey on banging spoons until they’re posted ;D That would be fun for me on this Monday that I’m back to my babysitting gig.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Irishey says:

    I enjoy posts that share traditions about how people celebrate holidays and important events. I’ve always been fascinated by differences and similarities in customs, especially at Christmastime.

    I think there must be some Scandinavian somewhere in my ancestry. So much of what you wrote about feels natural to me, like lots of coffee throughout the day! The potato dishes sound wonderful. We need the recipe for the best mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and beef, rutabaga casserole…well, actually, for every mouthwatering thing you listed and described!

    I had forgotten I had heard about people placing candles on graves at Christmas. What you describe does indeed sound powerful. What a lovely way to honor departed loved ones. People can be so sad at Christmas without family and friends who used to be integral to their enjoyment of the holidays.

    Empty spaces loved ones used to fill can cast such sorrowful shadows over our ability to fully embrace our present. Going to visit the graves and pray there together with other loved ones on Christmas Eve surely must make it feel we are closer to those we lost, and provide a mutually supportive healing balm for the hearts.

    Having an enclosed balcony all decorated for the holidays sounds festive, warm and romantic. I’ve always thought it would be special to celebrate Christmas Eve outside under the stars, candlelit table, twinkling lights strung at the perimeter and stars twinkling overhead, soft music playing, singing hymns and carols, hot mulled cider or wine, warm brandy, hot rum toddies, hot Irish coffee, warmed blankets, maybe some popcorn popping and chestnuts roasting over a blazing fire nearby and, of course, snow falling at some point in the evening.

    Thank you for sharing memories of your first Christmas in Finland and pans for your second. All of it sounds wonderful. Of course, we greatly anticipate you posting recipes as a followup to this post!

    Hugs to you and your wife, and Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. kaisquared4 says:

    Hubby would be all over that rutabaga casserole! So nice of your wife’s family to wait for your arrival to decorate the tree! I can imagine that lighting candles that far north this time of year would have even more of an impact. Recipes, please!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sassytwatter says:

    So happy it’s back today. I was worried! Fun to read bout the Finnish traditions I had assumed they would be similar to Swedish ones. Sounds like you had a lovely Christmas. I hope you have a wonderful holiday! How fun this year carving out your own traditions.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. renee200 says:

    Oh my goodness, now I’m hungry. So glad you have found your happiness in Finland. Please share some recipes if you can. I love to cook and would like to try something new. Creating new traditions with a loved one makes holidays so special. Have a wonderful Christmas sweetie. Blessings and hugs. R

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Lynn says:

    All sounds great and I’m so pleased Suzi’s family have welcomed you ❤️
    You may remember me telling you my partner spent a week in Finland this summer and greatly enjoyed all the new foods he tried. He came back with some local honey and homemade blueberry and loganberry jam courtesy of the family he stayed with 😊
    He was keen to bring one their huskies too, but I put my foot down about that.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. SH says:

    What a wonderful post. The foods there sound so interesting, fruit soup, who knew?! 😀 How wonderful to be accepted by Suzi’s family and how nice that you will start your own traditions this year 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anastasia Vitsky says:

      My grandma used to have a fruit soup for Christmas, but I think she called it sweet soup. I’m not sure I remember what was in it, but there was tapioca and dried soup. Sickly sweet of course, but it tasted like Christmas. I haven’t had it in years.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. JoanneBest says:

    I’m in the food line, tummy grumbling wanting everything you mentioned, this Irish girl loves potatoes in any shape, form, recipe 😀
    Finland sounds like a magical place! How brave you are to leave your country and move to a new country where everyone speaks a different language! Love knows no bounds though, so I am so happy you took that step/plane to be with your wife ❤
    It must have been so exciting last Christmas decorating the tree with your In-Laws and going to Church and the Cemetery with the lighting of the candles brought me to tears ❤
    While I would have to substitute tea for coffee, I'm with you for the rest of what you described so vividly I can picture it in my head. Thank you for sharing your journey, I have to admit you brought to mind Mira 🙂
    Enjoy your first Christmas with just you and your wife as you make new memories and new traditions, it sounds so exciting and, at the risk of repeating myself, magical ❤
    Hugs (because Nina taught me the power of hugs 😀 )
    ❤ xox

    Liked by 2 people

  10. pieclown says:

    Good afternoon or evening. I read these wonderful post about all the great traditions and food. It gets wanting to take a class or 2 so I can try these great dishes. So nice you in laws waited for you to decorate the tree.

    Pie pie 4 Now

    Liked by 2 people

  11. catrouble says:

    Thank you for sharing your Christmas with Sue’s family. I love how you two are combining your traditions. Would love to know which foods, in addition to the tea cookies, you are adding to your new tradition. Looking forward to more about how you merge your traditions.

    Hugs and blessings…Cat


  12. awesomesub says:

    Hi Sarah, some of the Finnish meals are definitely close to what we do here as well. We do a lot with potatoes and in autumn I love cooking mashed turnip/rutabaga. Fruit soup is yummy. I like it most with strawberries, cherries or elderberries. Hehe, I’d like Finland just because of what you wrote about the coffee. 😀
    I love that you have been welcomed so wonderfully by Suzi’s family, and that they wanted you to take part in decorating the Christmas tree. I think this is so special. I had not heard about the lighting of candles on graves for Christmas, but this is a lovely way of remembering those who were close. Your first Christmas in your own home?! This is going to be awesome and exciting! 🙂 Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Hyvää joulua Saksa 🙂

    hugs and love



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