Right off the bat, I would like to apologise for my title, I’m finnished with the puns now, don’t worry.
On the 6th of December, Finland celebrates its Independence Day, itsenäisyyspäivää, the day when 103 years ago, Finland became independent from Russia in 1917, after being a part of the Russian empire and Swedish kingdom, so it was quite a special and big feat for the Finns. Now, don’t be mistaken, while Australia Day is where BBQ’s and beach trips is tradition, in Finland, the day is lot more about contemplation and reflection about the past and the issues the country had gone through to get to the point of independence.
Most years, the day is celebrated by tuning into the Presidential Independence Day reception, where approximately 2000 guests are invited to the ball, as the President Sauli Niinistö and Mrs Jenni Haukio shake hands with all of the guests, while Finns watch and judge who has the most fashionable dress. Of course, as this has become the motto of my exchange, ‘not this year’. Due to corona, the yearly reception was cancelled for obvious reasons.
So instead, I spent my Independence Day ice skating! I woke up early, 9am (give me a break, I technically woke up before the crack of dawn, which is at 09:27), and left with my host dad, brother and sister, to the local outdoor ice skating rink, where all you need is a pair of skates, and the willingness to be overtaken by a 5 year old who can skate better than you. Say goodbye to your dignity.
It actually didn’t go too badly, I think it went better because I had my host mums very fancy skates, I’ll give them the credit for not falling on my ass. There were also a lot of people there, some ice hockey teams training, and a lot of kids learning how to skate, alongside me, so a bunch of 5year olds + Kasarni.
My host siblings were skating too, Elian was learning, and Sylvia was a massive help to me, holding my hand as we went around the rink, all the while my host dad skated loops around us. But it was a blast, definitely something I can’t do in Australia.
After my impromptu attempt of being like Disney on ice, we headed home and got ready to head out to my host grandparents for lunch. We did have a matching theme of blue and white, very fitting.
Anywho, we walked to the centre of town, where- next to the Christmas tree and market square, there was a parade of horses, that were going around the town in a sort of march, it was such an amazing little tradition, and how that even with all the things going on, we were still able to have something really special and nice.
We then walked through the town and over to the cemetery, a tradition for the Finns. We stood and listened to the band play, and watched the flag march, before lighting a candle and silently placing it at the grave of the soldiers. It was a really interesting thing to experience, seeing how highly Finns value the soldiers, and the independence day itself, and even though I’m not even Finnish, I felt so proud of tiny Finland and its independence.
We then continued our walk to my host grandparents house, where we had an amazing feast of entree, a main of salmon and even dessert!
On our walk back, we spotted quite a lot of candles in the windows of houses, in particular, two blue and white candles, which, as soon as we got home, we lit in our window.
Overall, the Finnish Independence Day is more one of solemn and ceremonial days, compared to fireworks and BBQ’s. The war memorial, marches and candles was such a special thing to experience, especially when I think about this time last year, where I was celebrating the Finnish Independence Day in my bedroom in Australia, lighting two little tea candles, and imagining what I would be doing this time next year. What a year it’s been.