AFTER four years in the UK I have reached several milestones in 2016; a flat, a national insurance number and my first spontaneous conversation about the weather.

One I have yet to achieve – and one of the most meaningful of all – is to spend a Christmas in the UK.

This is a particularly momentous occasion on my road to cultural integration, because the ways that Finland and the UK celebrate this holiday could not be more different.

So I thought I should walk you through a typical Finnish Christmas.
After all, despite the gibberish that Americans might spout, we are the homeland of Santa Claus.

The fundamental difference is that Finns celebrate Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day.

Therefore, we begin our Christmas on the morning of December 24.
First thing in the morning, children gather in front of the television with breakfast – perhaps some rice porridge with sugar and cinnamon – to watch ‘Santa’s Hotline’.

Broadcast since 1991, the cameras go to Santa’s grotto in Lapland and children can call Santa or email their greetings to a live broadcast.


Between cartoons, young people of all ages call Santa to tell him about what are they wishing for and often sing a carol or read a poem in a voice trembling with nervous excitement.

Santa listens intently to every young caller, asking them questions, thanking them for the performance and ending each call with: “I will see you in the evening.”

Living abroad does not mean that you do not get to participate – throughout the broadcast the elves share messages that arrive from all over the world.

Then, when ‘Santa’s Hotline’ ends at noon, you can change channels as another classic Christmas broadcast starts – the declaration of Christmas peace.

This tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages, served as a starting point for declaring a period of peace from Christmas Eve until January 13 to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The citizens were asked to respect one another’s peace during this celebratory 21-day period, with harsh punishments for criminals who offended during a religious holiday.

To this day, hundreds of people gather in the market of Finland’s former capital, Turku, to see the declaration read by a senior civil servant from the original script, while hundreds of thousands watch at home.

By now the shadows are growing longer – the perfect timing for the next festive exercise…the sauna – an ancient tradition, prepared for with care and devotion.

Sauna is a sacred place to Finns, comparable to a church as in the past people would be born and die there, and those who had passed would be bathed there ready for their final journey.

This brings us to our next stop, which is somewhere where everyone wants to be on a celebration of family and togetherness – a graveyard.

Even though some of you might find it a frightening place, visiting family graves is another ancient tradition that is an inseparable part of many Finns’ Christmas.

I can also assure you that thousands of candles glowing in the darkness on a quiet, snowy site is a beautiful, solemn and restful sight as those who have passed away are remembered and honoured.

Then it’s time to return home, and take a seat around the Christmas table which holds such treats as oven-baked ham, rutabaga casserole and mixed beetroot salad.

Root vegetables are an inseparable part of the Finnish Christmas dinner, as they would usually be the only food items still edible in the freezing winter.

There are no crackers, silly hats or jumpers, least of all mistletoe, which is a curious tradition to begin with.

Finns like to avoid any physical contact other than the Heimlich manoeuvre, even at festive times.

After polishing off the food, the wait begins, with every set of headlights a potential sign.

Could it be Santa?

As he lives in Finland, Santa can visit every child there, with just enough time to hand over the presents and listen to a song before continuing his global journey.

Merry Christmas!