I contacted my Finnish friend Sanna a little while back to ask her about what she would do on Christmas day in Finland.
I met Sanna a year and a half ago when we were both taking a short evening class on portrait photography in Melbourne, Australia. She lives in Melbourne with her husband and little boy. She is a really great photographer, you can see her work on her website here and her blog here.
Having lived in Australia for three years, I can tell you that it makes a huge difference to spend Christmas in Summer. So imagine being from Finland and not having a decent Winter landscape on the day!
Despite the fact that she really misses her Finnish Christmas (and I know it is quite overwhelming to think about it when you live so far away), Sanna was very happy to share her memories of Christmas with me and you.
On 23rd December, the Christmas tree is brought indoors and this is when the celebration really starts. Sanna and her family drink glögi (mulled wine) and eat gingerbread while they decorate the tree.
On Christmas Eve, they have riisipuuro (rice porridge) for breakfast and Sanna's mother usually puts a blanched almond into the porridge pot. The person who finds the almond can make a wish. The rice porridge is served warm with a knob of butter or a dash of milk, a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon powder on top. It can also be served with a fruit soup (or compote). You would usually find bilberries in it (it is a fruit similar to blueberries, only smaller and sourer; its flesh is red or purple and usually taints the mouth of whoever eats it).
At midday, Christmas peace is declared in Finland (you can read it here). Sanna and her family would usually watch it on the television or listen to it on the radio.
They spend the rest of the day preparing the food and listening to Christmas carols. If the temperature outside is below zero degree Celsius, they like to make ice lanterns.
The main meal of a Finnish Christmas is the Christmas Eve dinner.
They start with rosolli. It is a beetroot salad with a cream dressing. They serve it with pickled herring. In Sanna's family, the pickled herring is homemade with onion or mustard. They also have some smoked salmon with dill and lemon, and boiled potatoes.
Then, they eat kinkku and luumukastike (ham and prune gravy). It is served with lanttulaatikko (a swede casserole), porkkanalaatikko (a carrot casserole) and imelletty perunalaatikko (a potato casserole).
The casseroles are a very important part of the Finnish Christmas dinner. Sanna's family normally buys the swede and carrot casseroles ready made in the supermarket (as they can find it made really well there), but the potato casserole is homemade. The reason for that is that they use Sanna's grandmother's recipe in which the casserole is sweetened.
For dessert, they then drink coffee and eat prune tarts and chocolates.
After dinner, they all open their presents. Families that have young children hire a Santa who will visit them and bring the gifts.
The rest of the evening is spent playing boardgames, reading books or just enjoying some time together.
On Christmas day itself, Sanna and her family like to sleep in late, and getting up only to eat chocolates and leftovers. They will also go out a bit to make snowmen and have a nice walk, but Christmas day is all about resting and relaxing.
All I could dream of after hearing about Sanna's Finnish Christmas was to one day spend Christmas in Finland. I think that the traditions and the weather there make it very special and lovely.
I decided to adapt two Finnish Christmas dishes. So keep scrolling down and you will find a recipe for a Finnish Christmas breakfast and a recipe for a Finnish Christmas starter. The gingerbread recipe is here as a little gift so you make it and enjoy it while decorating your Christmas tree.