Culture Name

Finnish, Finn, Finlander

Alternative Names

Suomalaiset , Tavastians , or Hämäläiset and Karelians or Karjalaiset


Identification. The terms "Finland" and "Finns" are external obscure derivations from early (first century C.E. ) Roman references to people known as Fenni (probably Lapps or Saami) who occupied lands north of the Baltic Sea. In their own language, Finns generally refer to themselves as Suomalaiset and their land or country as Suomi , which may derive from suo , the Finnish expression for a bog or swamp. Finns constitute the majority of the citizens of the Republic of Finland, which has a Swedish-speaking minority as well as Saami (Lapp) and Rom (Gypsy) minorities. While language was a highly divisive issue as late as the 1920s and 1930s, many Finnish speakers now recognize the value of Swedish for communicating with other Nordic countries. A distinction between urban, industrialized, coastal southwestern Finland and the rural interior northeast is an important historical and regional division in terms of culture and identity. However, socialist versus nonsocialist affiliations are more meaningful at the political level. Despite these distinctions, most citizens strongly believe that they share a common culture and heritage.

Location and Geography. Finland is bordered on the east by Russia, on the south by the Gulf of Finland and Estonia, on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia and Sweden, and on the north and northwest by Norway. A quarter of its territory is north of the Arctic Circle. Four physiographic-biotic regions divide the country. An archipelagic belt embraces the southwestern coastal waters and the Åland Islands. A narrow coastal plain of low relief and clay soils, historically the area of densest rural settlement and mixed farming production, extends between the Russian and Swedish borders. A large interior plateau contains dense forests, thousands of lakes and peat bogs, and rocky infertile soils associated with a glacially modified landscape with numerous drumlins and eskers. This district lies north and east of the coastal plain toward the Russian border. Beyond the Arctic Circle, forests give way to barren fells, extensive bogs, rugged mountains, and the large rivers of Lapland. Continental weather systems produce harsh cold winters that last up to seven months in the interior eastern and northern districts, yet long summer days permit farming far to the north. The climate in the south and west is moderated by the waters of the Gulf Stream and north Atlantic drift current.

Demography. In 1997, the population was about 5,147,000 people, of whom 93 percent were ethnically and linguistically Finns. High mortality from wars and famine dampened population growth between the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, a falling birthrate and emigration led to very low population growth. Dramatic internal migration accompanied an economic transformation between the 1950s and the mid-1970s, when agriculture and the forestry industry were rapidly mechanized. At that time, many young people left the rural east and northeast to work in the urban industrialized south. While 75 percent of the population lived in rural areas just before World War II, by the late 1990s, 62 percent of the people were urban dwellers. About a sixth of the population lives in the Helsinki metropolitan area along the south-central coast in the province of Uusimaa. Helsinki became the capital in 1812 under Russian control, replacing the role Turku had served during Swedish domination. Substantial Finnish populations live in Russia, the United States, Canada, and Sweden, and smaller numbers reside in Australia, South Africa, and Latin America.


Linguistic Affiliation. Finnish belongs to the family of Finno-Ugric languages in northeastern Europe, Russia, and western Siberia, a group that includes Saami (Lapp) and Hungarian. The most closely related languages are Estonian, Votish, Livonian, Vepsian, and the closely allied Karelian dialects of the Balto-Finnic branch. Although Finnish was established as a written language as early as the sixteenth century, its official status in Finland did not become equivalent to that of Swedish until after the Language Ordinance of 1863. Finnish is a euphonious language with many Germanic and Slavic loan words.

Symbolism. About 1.5 million saunas are significant visual architectural symbols, especially in the rural landscape. Ritualized bathing in the sauna reinforces a web of cultural ideas about sociality, hospitality, cleanliness, health, sisu ("gritty perseverance"), and athleticism. The Kalevala , an epic poem synthesized by Elias Lönnrot in the early nineteenth century, is a powerful literary evocation of Finnish origins, unity, and destiny as a people. It frequently refers to other aspects of Finnish culture that have become significant symbols of identity, such as the savusauna (smoke sauna) and the ancient stringed instrument the kantele . Another mid-nineteenth century artistic achievement, the composition Vårt land or Maamme ("Our Land"), with words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg and music by Fredrik Pacius became the national anthem. Citizens throughout the country fly the national flag, a blue cross on a white background, during the celebration of Midsummer. The national coat of arms, a crowned lion standing on a red field with silver roses, derives from Swedish heraldic crests of the sixteenth century and appears on a variety of postage stamps, banknotes and coins, and official seals.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Human habitation in Finland dates to the early postglacial period in the late eighth millennium B.C.E. , long before Finno-Ugric migrations into the area from the east or possibly from eastern Europe. Previous theories held that the ancestors of the Finns migrated into southwestern Finland from Estonia as recently as the first century C.E. , during the early Roman Iron Age. Recent research, including paleoecological evidence of agricultural grain pollens dating to the second millennium B.C.E. , suggests a much earlier proto-Finnish presence. A combination of archaeological, historical linguistic, and genetic evidence suggests that the spread of the "Comb Ceramic" culture in northern Finland around 4000 B.C.E. may represent the appearance of a proto-Finnic-speaking population in that region that came from an eastern European source area. As the "Battle-Axe or Corded Ware" culture arrived in southwestern Finland around 3000 B.C.E. , proto-Finnic began diverging into early Saami-speaking and Finnish-speaking populations. The latter people gradually added farming to their hunting, trapping, and fishing adaptation. By the beginning of the Bronze Age around 1500 B.C.E. , these tribes were geographically divided. Those in the southwest were heavily influenced by Scandinavian cultures, while those in the interior and eastern districts had ties with peoples of the Volga region. A series of crusades by the expanding Swedish kingdom between the 1150s and 1293 was the vehicle for spreading the Roman Catholic Church into Finland. By the time of the Lutheran Reformation in the early sixteenth century, the Swedish Crown had strong control of colonial Finland, and a modified estate system forced Finnish peasants to participate in the wars of their Swedish lords. The destruction of Finnish settlements and crops and large population losses resulted from conflicts between the Swedish and Russian empires. By the mid-eighteenth century, there were strong Finnish separatist movements. Russia finally conquered Finland during the Napoleonic wars of 1808–1809, annexing it as an autonomous grand duchy.

National Identity. The nineteenth century was a period of coalescence of feelings of national consciousness in scientific thought, politics, art, and literature, as exemplified by the 1835 compilation of Finnish and Karelian rune songs in the Kalevala . This movement served as a counterpoint to a growing Russification of Finnish institutions, and Finland declared itself independent immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The new state was immediately embroiled in a civil war that resulted from growing class tension between property owners (the counterrevolutionary "White" forces) and landless farm, forest, and factory workers (the "Red" forces) who wanted a socialist state. The scars from that conflict had not healed when Finland was united by its battles with the Soviet Union during World War II. Finland surrendered several eastern territories that amounted to 10 percent of its area, and 420,000 Karelian Finns in those areas migrated across the newly formed national boundaries to Finland, requiring a massive resettlement and rural land reform program. Since World War II, the Finnish parliamentary state has actively pursued an official policy of neutrality combined with expanded trade and cultural contacts with the Soviet Union, and then Russia, a political adaptation known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line.

Ethnic Relations. Swedish is the second official language and is spoken by about 6 percent of the population. Living primarily in the southwestern part of the country, Swedish colonists and Swedish-speaking Finns were, for centuries, a ruling elite. Swedish was the language of commerce, the courts, and education, and Finnish was regarded as a peasant language until the nationalist movement of the nineteenth century advanced it as an official written and cultural language of the majority. Political tensions arising from this ethnolinguistic division have largely faded as the Swedish-speaking minority has declined in size and assimilated through marriage with Finnish speakers. By contrast, Finland's 6,500 Saami, or Lapps, have largely avoided assimilation into the cultural mainstream, having been displaced from the southern part of the country by northward-colonizing Finns over the past two thousand years. Separateness is now reinforced as much by the economic marginality and limited educational opportunities in Finnish Lapland as by cultural and linguistic isolation. Gypsies have lived in Finland since the sixteenth century and perhaps have endured the greatest prejudice of any minority. They number between five thousand and six thousand and in recent decades, the government has attempted to improve their economic situation and lessen overt discrimination. Foreigners, while never numerous, have increased to seventy-four thousand and have come mostly from Russia, Estonia, Sweden, and Somalia.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

With the rise of permanent agricultural settlements in the fertile plains of the western and southern regions in the Middle Ages, communal ownership and management created a system in which an entire hamlet, including fifteen to twenty closely spaced farms, assumed joint ownership of fields, forests, and pastures. Land reforms in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries broke down the communal villages, but the newly created individual farmsteads retained a modified courtyard arrangement with dwelling units, sauna or bath-house, grain and food storage buildings, livestock barns, and hay sheds enclosing an inner yard. Wooden domestic architecture achieved a high level of craftsmanship and embellishment, with two-story houses marking prosperous farms. However, in the eastern and interior areas, agricultural settlement occurred later and was characterized by a more flexible system of land ownership and farmstead organization. The persistence of "burn-beating" cultivation ( poltta kaskea, kaskiviljelys ), a form of pioneer extensive farming in which patches of conifer forest were cut and burned to create fertilized fields, involved mobile populations and a dispersed pattern of settlement. Remote individual farms or extended dual-family holdings were won from the forest, often along glacial esker ridges or "home hills" ( harju, vaara ). While these historical patterns of settlement affect the current rural landscape, six of ten Finns now live in urban areas. The largest cities are greater Helsinki with about 911,000 people, Tampere with 189,000, Turku with 169,000, and Oulu with 114,000. The majority of residential dwellings of all types have been constructed since World War II, largely consisting of apartment house complexes in large cities. Adapting socially and emotionally to this urban landscape has been problematic for many recent migrants from the countryside. Many city dwellers still view themselves as partly rural, a fact attested to by a weekend and holiday return to cottages in the countryside. Finland remains one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, with only 26 people per square mile (16 people per square kilometer). The development of contemporary architectural movements in the twentieth century may be seen as an attempt to adapt the demands of modern housing projects, offices, churches, and public buildings to the forests, lakes, light conditions, and other distinctive features and materials of the landscape. Pioneered by Alvar Aalto and Erik Bryggman, Finnish modern architecture employs a "neoplastic" use of space that emerges directly from the function and surroundings of building structures. Despite the notable innovations of the twentieth century, much of the national architectural identity resides in older buildings that have achieved an iconic status: the medieval castles at Savonlinna and Turku; eighteenth-century vernacular wooden churches; the early nineteenth-century neoclassical center of Helsinki designed by C.L. Engel which now contains the Council of State, the University of Helsinki, and the Helsinki Cathedral; and Helsinki's railway station, designed by Eliel Saarinen and completed in 1914, an imposing granite building that presages the Art Deco skyscrapers built in American cities two decades later.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Milk is prominent in the diet as a beverage and the basic ingredient in a variety of curdled, soured, and cultured forms; in broths used for soups, stews, and puddings; and in regional specialty dishes such as "cheese bread" ( juustoleipä ). There are notable differences between western and eastern Finland in bread making and the manner of souring milk. A large midday meal in a rural household may include fish baked in a rye loaf ( leipäkukko ), potatoes ( peruna ), barley bread ( rieska ), cheese ( juusto ), pickled beets ( punajuuri ), cloudberries in sauce, milk, and coffee.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Coffee is a "national drink" that mediates the distinction between the rural interior and the urban industrial

A Lapp reindeer breeder from Inari. Finland's Lapps have maintained a separate cultural identity.
A Lapp reindeer breeder from Inari. Finland's Lapps have maintained a separate cultural identity.
south. In the early nineteenth century, coffee was an expensive imported beverage 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-restraint in which an abundance of delicate pastries is 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 scorned in popular lore and jokes, sausage is nonetheless considered a versatile convenience food. Like coffee, it may appear as a common festival food at occasions such as Midsummer ( juhannus ), along with cheese bread, potato pasties ( perunapiirakka ), yeast coffee bread ( pulla ), beer, and vodka. Mämmi , a brown malted porridge, is typically served at Easter. Sima (a kind of mead), talouskalja (homemade beer), and viilia (soured whole milk) also may be served on special occasions.

Basic Economy. Livestock raising was a major element in the peasant economy, along with fishing, hunting, tar production, and peddling. Wood as a commercial product did not become part of the farming economy until liberalized marketing policies, improved sawmilling techniques, and foreign demand converged in the late nineteenth century. The precariousness of crop cultivation, coupled with the emergence of new international markets for butter during the Russian colonial period (1808–1917), intensified the production of dairy cattle. Gradually, cultivated grasses replaced grains and wild hay as a source of cattle pasturage and fodder, and after the turn of the century, farmers began to establish cooperative dairies ( osuusmeijerit ). The general shift toward commercial agriculture coincided with the decline of the burn-beating system. Nonetheless, many farm families in the northern and eastern regions maintained an essentially subsistence orientation until the 1950s. Increased mechanization and specialization in farm production (dairy cattle, hogs, and grains) occurred in the 1960s as the labor force moved into manufacturing and service industries; less than 11 percent of the labor force is now involved in agriculture and forestry. The rural economy is still based on modest family-owned farms where the marketing of timber from privately owned forest tracts is an important means of financing agricultural operations.

Handicraft and artisan traditions were well developed historically, and some have survived the conversion to industrial manufacturing. Men specialized in making furniture, harnesses, wooden vessels or "bushels" ( vakka ), and metalwork. The sheath knife ( puukko ) was a versatile tool, and it continues to symbolize maleness in recreational hunting and fishing. Women specialized in textiles and lace making. The woven woolen wall rug ( ryijy ) has become a particularly popular art form in homes, emblematic of a family's patrimony. By the Middle Ages local markets and fairs were important in the economy, with fairs often held in the vicinity of churches and associated with saints' days or other aspects of the religious calendar.

Land Tenure and Property. Historically, in the west it was customary for a farm to be passed on to the eldest son or the eldest daughter's husband. In the east, the land was divided among all the adult male family members. These regional patterns have largely faded, and intergenerational transfers of land have become highly variable throughout the country. Despite a bias toward patrilineal transmission, farms can be inherited by sons or daughters or the oldest or youngest offspring or can be divided or jointly held by multiple heirs. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a landless proletariat constituted half the rural population. Major agrarian reforms included the Crofters' Law of 1918, the Lex Kallio of 1922, and the Land Procurement Law of 1945, all of which created holdings for landless rural poor and unfavorably situated tenant farmers. The Land Procurement Law also redistributed land to ex-servicemen and Karelian refugees in the wake of World War II.

Commercial Activities. With two-thirds of total output generated in the service sector, the economy is comparable to those in other advanced industrial nations. Finland joined the European Union (EU) in 1995, primarily to further political integration, but has experienced some economic benefits in the form of lower food prices. The gross domestic product per capita was $18,871 in 1996, close to the mean for EU countries. A recession-spurred unemployment rate exceeding 18 percent in the mid-1990s, has been the largest economic problem, stemming from the Soviet Union's collapse and the deterioration of bilateral Finnish-Soviet trade. The markka , or Finnmark, is the basic monetary unit.

Major Industries. In recent years, metal, engineering, and electronics products have accounted for half of the country's exports, with forest products accounting for another third. The revolution in high-technology industries has been dramatic. These industries did not become prominent until the 1990s but now produce a large and growing share of exports. The Nokia Corporation, known in the 1980s primarily for paper and rubber products, has an expanding international market for mobile phones, computers, and related telecommunications products.

Trade. Furs and naval stores constituted a large share of the export trade in the Middle Ages, mainly destined for the cities of the Hanseatic League. German and Swedish merchants were prominent in Finland's early Baltic port cities. After the mid-nineteenth century, foreign trade shifted toward Saint Petersburg and Russian markets with lumber, paper, and agricultural products becoming the chief exports. After World War II, forest products remained crucial to the export economy, but they are now complemented by sophisticated metal, electronics, engineering, and chemical products. In recent years, trade with countries in the European Economic Community has expanded and has been reinforced by Finland's membership in the European Free Trade Association.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Before the nineteenth century, Finnish society was divided into peasants

Light blue vases at the Arabia Factory in Helsinki, which is known for its stoneware, china, and porcelain. Finnish design combines local artistic themes with tools and materials adapted to demanding northern conditions.
Light blue vases at the Arabia Factory in Helsinki, which is known for its stoneware, china, and porcelain. Finnish design combines local artistic themes with tools and materials adapted to demanding northern conditions.
( talonpojat ), city dwellers, clergy, and nobility. Economic change led to the decline of the clergy and nobility and an expansion of the entrepreneurial and working classes. In more recent decades, considerable social mobility and an egalitarian ethos emerged with increasing economic prosperity, a progressive social welfare system, an open educational system, and consensus politics. While Finns may not always recognize clear economic class divisions, they are likely to be conscious of the status attached to educational and honorific titles and political party affiliation. The currently unfolding class system includes farmers, the working class (nonrural manual laborers), the petit bourgeoisie (shop owners, small entrepreneurs), the lower middle class (lower-income service sector), the upper middle class (higher-income white-collar professionals), and the upper class (corporate owners and managers). Symbols of these loosely-drawn social strata, as in many Western democracies, can be rather subtle. Nonetheless, the kinds of work one does, and the level of education, professional training and/or professionalism demanded by one's livelihood, are often strong indicators of the degree of prestige and status one enjoys in Finnish society.

Political Life

Government. The administrative district or commune ( maalaiskunta ) embodies a sense of community and self-identification for its residents. It often coincides with the historical church parish, and is a local unit of self-government that generally collects taxes, regulates economic affairs, and maintains public order. Every four years a communal council is elected to manage local affairs. Much of a council's work is implemented by a communal board composed of members appointed to reflect the council's political party composition.

Leadership and Political Officials. With more than a dozen political parties, kunta government sometimes is represented by opposing coalitions of socialist and nonsocialist party interests. The same principle applies at the national level, where the two hundred representatives of the uni-cameral parliament ( Eduskunta ) are often elected by alliances of parties. The Social Democratic Party and the Agrarian Union (Centre) Party formed the basis of all majority governments well into the 1980s. Nonetheless, most parliamentary members follow the positions of their political parties and vote in blocs. The parliament promulgates laws, approves the national budget, monitors the legality of governmental activities, and, in concert with the president, exerts legislative power.

Social Problems and Control. The institution of a village-governing alderman was part of the authoritarian moral environment in the dense rural settlements of the southern and western regions. Village fight groups and fights ( kylätappelut ) were ritualized conflicts, sometimes associated with weddings, which integrated communities via rivalry relationships. In the sparsely settled eastern interior, social life was more individualistic and social control less formal. In contemporary society, independent courts and centrally organized police forces maintain public order. Crime rates generally increased between the 1960s and 1980s paralleling the country's growing wealth and urbanization. The economic recession of the early 1990s was accompanied by a decline in crime, followed by modest increases in recent years. Compared with other Nordic countries, Finland has very low rates for theft and narcotics offenses but an above average rate for assault.

Military Activity. Finland's historical position as a frontier of colonization and military incursions by external empires is part of the collective conscience. Strategic victories against invading Soviet forces during the "Winter War" of 1939–1940 are symbolically integral to the lore and identity of many Finns. By contrast, the "reign of terror" after the civil war of 1917–1918 profoundly polarized the middle classes and working classes, with the working classes remaining alienated and embittered. In foreign relations, Finland initially attempted to establish cooperative ties with other countries that had won their independence from Russia after World War I. However, it soon abandoned that position and began to seek the support of the League of Nations. After the mid-1930s, Nordic cooperation became the predominant orientation in foreign policy.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

In recent years, expenditures on social insurance (health, pension, accident, and disability programs), social transfers of income (maternity allowances, children's allowances, child support payments, municipal housing allowances), and social welfare (individuals in need) have approached one-fifth of the gross national product. The programs are financed by contributions from the state, municipal governments, employers, and insured individuals. As early as 1895, compensation was instituted for workers injured in accidents. A dramatic increase in medical care needed for disabled war veterans beginning in the 1940s spurred the state to expand public health programs. Finland has been a pioneer in maternity allowances and family welfare, offering one of the most generous systems of payments for mother and child care in the world.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

About 10 to 15 percent of the government's aid budget is allocated to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in development and humanitarian projects. In 1997, as many as one hundred fifty Finnish NGOs maintained four hundred projects in more than seventy countries, mostly in Africa and Asia. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, the Finnish Free Foreign Mission, Finnchurchaid, the Finnish Red Cross, and the Trade Union Solidarity Centre account for a large share of NGO activity.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In the rural economy, women are the primary cattle tenders and men are field and forestry workers. Being a good emäntä (female head of a farmstead) involves a balance of cow care, child care, food processing, meal preparation, arduous cleaning in cow shed and house, and ritual displays of hospitality for visiting neighbors, friends, and relatives. An isäntä (male head of a farmstead) is symbolically and practically associated with the outdoor domain of preparing and maintaining pastures and hay fields, cutting wood, coordinating labor with other farms, and operating and maintaining machinery. However, a decline in the availability of work crews of kin and friends and a concomitant increase in mechanization have contributed to convergence in male and female work roles. A complicating factor is that young women have left the countryside in greater numbers than have men in recent years. Farms have aging personnel and few assisting family members, and some farmers are forced into bachelorhood.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. There is a long tradition of sexual equality in the sense that women's participation in political activity and public life has been encouraged. Finland was the first country to provide equal voting rights to women, instituting female suffrage in elections to the national parliament in 1906. Fully 9.5 percent (nineteen of two hundred members) of the parliament of

Wooden buildings in Porvoo. Few of Finland's residences predate World War II.
Wooden buildings in Porvoo. Few of Finland's residences predate World War II.
1907 consisted of women. Female membership in the parliament currently is about 33 percent. Indeed, Finland's current president, Tarja Halonen, is a woman. The traditional role of rural women as resourceful, powerful workers translates well to urban contexts. The model of a man who works to support a wife who remains at home is not widely embraced. There is an old pattern of sending girls for advanced education while keeping boys in farm work after rudimentary schooling. While women work alongside men in business, forestry, engineering and other fields, women's earnings are only 81 percent of men's, reflecting the greater numbers of women in low-paying service jobs. A lingering area of conservatism and sexual disparity involves men's unchanging attitudes toward their roles and the notion that women, despite their other obligations, are responsible for domestic work and child care.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Endogamous tendencies characterized marriage in rural society, with mates frequently chosen from the same village, parish, or rural commune. This tendency was most pronounced in the eastern districts among large Karelian joint families and those of the same background and status. Night courting and bundling rituals achieved a high degree of elaboration among the youth in the southwest. Originally, bilocal marriages began with engagement and leave-taking ( läksiäiset ) ceremonies at the bride's home and ended with wedding rites ( häät ) at the groom's home. Under church influence, those customs were replaced by unilocal weddings at the bride's home. In recent years, community and regional endogamy have declined. Marriage rates also have declined as cohabitation has become more common in urban areas, yet that pattern preserves some of the aspects of the "trial marriage" of earlier times, when weddings were performed to finalize a marriage after a woman had conceived a child.

Domestic Unit. Historically, joint families were common in the eastern Karelian area, where a founding couple, their adult male children, and the male children's wives formed multiple-family farm households that were among the largest (twenty to fifty persons) in Scandinavia. Elsewhere, it has been common for only one child to remain on the parents' farmstead, and smaller "stem" and nuclear families have prevailed. Overall, family size has become smaller under the impact of urbanization, dropping from an average of 3.6 persons in 1950 to 2.7 in 1975. Among families with children, the number of offspring declined from an average of 2.27 in 1960 to 1.9 in 1997.

Inheritance. A common historical pattern was for a son to take over a farm and care for his parents in their old age. However, the custom of patrilineal transmission is changing, perhaps as differential migration to cities alters the sex ratios in rural areas. In many cases, relinquishing coheirs (usually siblings who move away) must be compensated for their shares in a farm by the remaining heir; often this is done with timber income from a farm's forest tracts.

Kin Groups. Kinship is basically bilateral, creating overlapping personal kindreds ( sukulaiset ) derived from the father's and mother's relatives.


Child Rearing and Education. Gritty perseverance ( sisu ), personal autonomy and independence, and respect for the autonomy of others are central themes in child training and personality formation.

Higher Education. Formal education generally is highly valued. In 1995, 2.2 million people had graduated from a senior secondary school, vocational

Downtown street in Turku, Finland.
Downtown street in Turku, Finland.
school, professional institute, or university. More than 130,000 students currently are enrolled in twenty universities and other institutions of higher education. More than half the students are women. The physical and social sciences are highly developed and well represented at major institutions such as the University of Helsinki, University of Jyvaskyla, University of Oulu, University of Tampere, and the University of Turku.


Finns have a self-conception and reputation for being reserved and sparing with words. Small talk is not valued. Accordingly, words and verbal promises are likely to be taken seriously. To some extent this is a public, formal persona that is belied by the intimacy and voluble conversation shared by good friends and family members. The sauna is a notable context in which people are more open and expressive. The rapid spread of mobile phones, computers, and other communications technology is creating a society that is highly interconnected, regardless of the nature of interpersonal interactions and demeanor. Finland has the highest per capita use of the Internet (nearly 25 percent of the population) and cellular phones (28 percent) in the world. Finns value educational degrees and other qualifications and may expect to be addressed with the appropriate title in professional or work settings. In recent years, there has been some resurgence in traditional conventions of etiquette that require the use of the second person plural as a formal means of address. The second personal singular is appropriate for addressing relatives, friends, and children. Mutual use of first names implies a close personal relationship. The customary greeting involves a firm handshake, direct eye contact, and perhaps a slight nod of the head but rarely embracing or kissing. As a result of women's involvement in politics and public life, relations between men and women are relatively equitable. Condescending attitudes toward women are rarely tolerated. While the social acceptability of intoxication is decreasing among younger people and legal sanctions for drunk driving are severe, Finns have a reputation for weekend binge drinking. This pattern is more prominent among men and, to the extent that it disrupts family life, retards the social progress achieved by women. Although the per capita consumption of alcohol is about average for Europe, Finns have relatively high rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related social and medical problems.


Religious Beliefs. Traditional conceptions of the supernatural had much in common with those of other Balto-Finnic peoples. The creation of the world was associated with the culture hero Väinämöinen, and the cosmos was divided into an underworld of the dead, a middle world of the living, and a sky-heaven supported by a giant pillar. Supernatural beings or deities included a god of the sky (Ilmarinen); a rain-giving god (Ukko), converted to a supreme or universal god under Christian influence; and other spirits of nature such as Tapio, a forest guardian of game. Many old features of Finnish-Karelian religion were preserved within the Russian Orthodox faith, which currently has about fifty-six thousand members in the venue of the Finnish Orthodox Church. However, Lutheranism, which contributed to an erosion of native religion, includes about 88 percent of the population as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Revivalist movements such as Laestadianism have flourished in the context of the Lutheran Church. The distinction between Lutheran and Orthodox traditions ultimately has its roots in early conflicts between the Swedish kingdom and the semi-independent state of Novgorod. The 1323 Peace of Pahkinasaari established a frontier border through Finnish territory. In the ensuing centuries, Finns to the west of the "Pahkinasaari line" were heavily exposed to Swedish, Scandinavian, and German culture and the Roman Catholic Church (ultimately replaced by Lutheranism), while Finns and Karelians in the Novgorodian realm to the east were influenced by Slavic culture and the Eastern (or Russian) Orthodox Church.

Religious Practitioners. Before Christian and medieval Scandinavian influence, religion involved shamanism, with practitioners mediating between the present world and the upper and nether realms of the universe. Traces of this tradition survive in the divinatory practices of the seer, or tietäjä . Evangelical Lutheran clergy, elected by local parish members, are the prominent religious specialists in contemporary society.

Rituals and Holy Places. Bear ceremonialism was part of the ancient hunting traditions. Ritual slaying, feasting, and return of the skull and bones of a bear were fundamental to sending the animal's soul back to its original home and thus facilitating its reincarnation. Ceremonies to promote farming and livestock became associated with holidays and the cult of the saints in the Christian calendar. Lutheran life cycle rites involving baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death remain significant for most people.

Death and the Afterlife. Living and dead formed a close unity in traditional Finnish and Karelian belief, and death was viewed largely as transfer to a new residence. The complex rituals accompanying death were orchestrated by women, who arranged the wake, washed and shrouded the body, and sometimes sang laments to send the deceased, along with food and implements, to the place of the family ancestors. Memorial feasts were held six weeks and one year after death. Those who passed on to the realm of the dead ( Manala or Tuonela ) remained a profound moral force among their living descendants. Days set aside for commemorating the dead eventually were adapted to a Christian calendar under Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox influence.

Medicine and Health Care

As a symbol of cleansing and purity, the sauna was a focus of therapeutic and curing activity as well as ritualized social bathing. It was common to give birth in the saunas before the availability of hospitals in the twentieth century, and cupping and bloodletting were performed there. Generally, the sauna is still seen as a remedy for pain and sickness. Professional medical care and research are highly developed with a network of 265 state financed district health centers providing a wide spectrum of health services. Overall health care expenditures account for a substantial share of Finland's GNP. It is a leading country in research and treatment in the areas of pediatrics, heart disease, and alcoholism.

Secular Celebrations

Kekri , a traditional feast at the end of the harvest season in rural communities, declined in importance as Christmas came to dominate festival life in town and urban settings, yet old kekri customs, such as tin casting to foretell the future, still occur in the context of Christmas and New Year celebrations. While Easter retains more of its religious character than do other church holidays, in the 1980s a new Easter custom emerged in which children dress up as witches, carry willow twigs, and travel from house to house seeking treats. Apparently, the Easter witch phenomenon combines ritual elements from older Scandinavian and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Midsummer celebrates the maximum occurrence of light at the summer solstice, a time when towns and cities are deserted for lakeside cottages and farms, where bonfires are lit, food and drink are shared between friends and relatives, and the national flag is flown. Other significant official national holidays include Independence Day (6 December), Vappu (May Day), and Mothers' Day (second Sunday of May).

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The government maintains a competitive art grants system that allows composers and performing artists to pursue creative work for one to five-year periods.

Literature. Finnish culture is known for its rune song (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 the burgeoning national consciousness and became a source of inspiration in many areas of the arts. Influences from Scandinavian and Russian literature in the late nineteenth century reinforced a trend toward realism and social criticism, as exemplified by Minna Canth's depictions of women and the poor and Juhani Aho's treatment of emotional experience. Despite neoromanticist yearnings, a

A Finnish family in a sauna in Oulu, Finland. Saunas provide a less formal, more open space for reserved Finns to express themselves.
A Finnish family in a sauna in Oulu, Finland. Saunas provide a less formal, more open space for reserved Finns to express themselves.
strong realist current infused literature in the early twentieth century. This is seen in Ilmari Kianto's tragicomic portrayal of a tenant farm family's struggles during the prohibition years of the 1920s, Ryysyrannan Jooseppi ( Joseph of Ragged Shore ) (1924), and in the Nobel Prize winner F. E. Sillanpää's evocations of rural landscapes that overpower or dwarf human actors. From these roots have arisen versatile recent novelists and prose writers, including Väinö Linna, Antti Tuuri, and Olli Jalonen. The tradition of depicting ordinary people in familiar social settings has continued, although powerlessness, 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. The reputation of Finnish design for combining local artistic themes with tools and materials adapted to demanding northern conditions was established at international fairs and expositions early in the twentieth century. Similar innovations in industrial design since the 1960s are seen in protective equipment, forestry machinery, recreational clothing, sporting goods, and electronics. The arena of contemporary visual arts is complex and evolving. As in architecture and design generally, a concern with the forces, shapes, colors, and textures of the northern landscape and the human relationship to nature have strongly influenced painting, sculpture, and other art forms. This is particularly evident in the representational romantic art that blossomed at the end of the nineteenth century. Akseli Gallen-Kallela's Great Black Woodpecker (1893) and his numerous paintings interpreting the Kalevala are exemplars. Abstract art movements did not gain a foothold until the 1950s. In recent years, however, graphic artists have experimented with innovative processes of image production and multimedia technologies to create new forms of art that sometimes serve as critiques of society and technology. In addition to a nationwide network of museums that arrange exhibitions, a new Museum of Contemporary Art (KIASMA) has been opened in Helsinki.

Performance Arts. The Kalevala had an impact on musical performance. The composer Jean Sibelius drew inspiration from this source in composing his symphony Kullervo in the early 1890s, and later his life and work became important symbols of the national identity. Opera gained a significant foothold with the organization of a festival at the fifteenth-century Olavinlinna Castle at Savonlinna between 1912 and 1916. That festival was revived in the 1960s, presaging a revival in opera in the 1970s and 1980s that has continued to the present. Operas drawing from specific historical events or themes, such as The Last Temptations and The Red Line , have resonated with Finnish audiences. Finland has nearly 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, mostly in the cities and larger towns, and outdoor summer theater is often intertwined with community festival life in smaller towns and rural locales where amateur companies predominate. Plays based on the novels of Aleksis Kivi and Väinö Linna, are a popular part of the repertoire in those settings.


Engman, Max, and David Kirby, eds. Finland: People, Nation, State , 1989.

Häikiö, Martti. A Brief History of Modern Finland, , 1992.

Jarvenpa, Robert. "Agrarian Ecology, Sexual Organization of Labor and Decision Making in Northeastern Finland." In Tim Ingold, ed., The Social Implications of Agrarian Change in Northern and Eastern Finland , 1988.

Lander, Patricia Slade. In the Shadow of the Factory: Social Change in a Finnish Community , 1976.

Pentikäinen, Juha Y. Kalevala Mythology , 1989.

Sarmela, Matti. Reciprocity Systems of the Rural Society in the Finnish-Karelian Culture Area , 1969.

Siikala, Anna-Leena. "Finnic Religions." In Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion , 1987.

Singleton, Fred. A Short History of Finland , 1989.

Solsten, Eric, and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. Finland: A Country Study , 1990.

Talve, Ilmar. Suomen Kansankulttuuri (Finnish Folk Culture) , 1980.

Vuorela, Toivo. The Finno-Ugric Peoples , 1964.

Web Sites

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. Virtual Finland , 1998.


User Contributions:

tarrence knoll
yeee buddy this helped with some la tarea a la escuela.

-muchas gracias!
Very nice, this can be used to give "a taste" of Finland and its culture for my Irish friends....
Really awesome...
I am impressed.Details about Finland really attracted me to go there for study and also for earn money.
Nice site. this site has a lot of info.awesome. hahahahahaha. lots of info. Written from the U.S, in Pennsylvania.
Great website thank you! My entire family is from Finland (mother and father) but they passed. I am always so interested in Finland and all of my heritage. I hope to visit someday and I will start to incorporate these traditions in my new family. Written in The United States, Michigan
hi this shiva from India..!! i knew lot about finland and finn..!! their culture,history,traditional is interesting things..!! if i have chance will go to finland and feel their rich heritage..!!
This looks perfect. This actually will help me with a project i am doing on finland (i have a friend from there so i decided to choose it) I am from the U.S.A
This was a great read. My great grandparents came to Canada via the united states during WWII. They raised my grandmother as a Finn with their Finnish surname of Pitkanen in the prairies of Canada as she spoke the language and they had a Sauna on their farm. Ive been so interested in my Finnish heritage and it is so interesting to find similarities in my self with the mentality of Finns even though I didn't grow up there!

Written from Lillooet, B.C. Canada
I am wondering if the costumes worn follow the paternal or maternal lineage or if the costumes are strictly by region i.e. if you live in a certain region you wear that region's costume? thank you for your response.
Gail ggd Johann
Thank you for access to history and culture of ancestors.
Grandmother from Helsinki and Grandfather from Lahti.
My grandaughter is writing a report on Finland for school project.
dechen selden
so great,.. Thnaks a lot.. i m from Bhutan live in Finland
Victor Gusu
Pretty good information :) might help me with my projest
Great article, with lots of essential knowledge about Finland, its culture and traditions.

On the saami part though... I noticed a small mistake, below the picture of the saami man. The desigh of his hat indicates he's from tribes of western Lapland (Municipality of Enontekio) and not from the shores of Lake Inari. There are three different main tribes of saami people living in Finland, and they each have very separable designs to their clothing.
i think this information is amazing. it helped me out a lot with my research paper. i am very very impressed. this gave me everything that i needed. thanks. : )
Good information! Where can I find the meaning of Finnish Symbols? (online)

The article is well informed. I have one question regarding,
The culture's rules regarding modesty and privacy..?..
Cultural traumas?

I have a essay on Finnish Culture..
finaland country is very beautiful country... That all thing is very like.
I am part Finnish in my heritage. I am glad to have learned a bit about the cultural background of some of my ancestors, and look forward to incorporating it into my family history.

Well written ! Thanks for the concise education.
Great article! Grandparents are from Finland and all of our relatives cherish our heritage. We are having another family reunion and this info will be great to hand out. Also, I am creating a banner that represents our Finnish heritage, the SISU if you will, and would appreciate anyone having an idea or two of something unique to create. The coat of arms is nice but a bit on the aggresive side with the lion, the swords and tongue lolling around, so any ideas would be appreciated.
love Finland :-* I would love to be in Finland as soon as possible:-((
i m getting married to a Finnish man. i m so happy
I loved this, I've always been a huge fan of all things Finland and this just proves how awesome Finland is!
Can't wait to be able to move there.

Written from Northern New York
This site really helped me out on a project I'm doing on Finland,
It has so many things to learn about...
This is a great site. :-)

From Ireland.
Now I understand my in-laws! I am Irish and we are the complete opposite! We are talkers and open drinkers They are all behind the back bickerers and closet drinkers who pretend to be lilly white goody goods. ALl my nieces and nephews are meth experimenters and my on sister in law left my brother in law( she was German) because he was quiet and a snore. She smoked a lot of grass and drake a lot. I love my husband ,we never fight and I have forced him to do some crazy things in thirty years...he is Irish by osmosis! I love my Finnish family and friends...I love their coffee and vodka cocktail in the am...who ya kidding guys!
Alot of useful facts and information about Finland in your post
I would need to spend alot of time to dig all this info up.Opens many avenues to explore
great articles, will assist with a presentation I am doing on Finland. Am so proud of my Finnish roots - was born in South Africa, and love both countries - been to visit family three times and loved every minute of it. canot wait to get back!
love to knw manythings about finland...and the people who are from finland wre very nice
i just met a Finn.He's so interesting as much as his culture is.
loved the info this site provided. was a good place to refer friends to
really helpfull and great to help with last minute reports
this website helped me beyond belief with my paper
This was my first time on this website. VERY NICE. I was born in Kemi, It brings back memories and I still use the traditions today. :)
This was my first time on this website. VERY NICE. I was born in Kemi, It brings back memories and I still use the traditions today. :)
Very well put together, Great information. Would have like to see more photos. Would also like to visit some day.Thanks.
thanks for the info aper

SirkkaFeb 15, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
This was my first time on this website. VERY NICE. I was born in Kemi, It brings back memories and I still use the traditions today. :)

SirkkaFeb 15, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
This was my first time on this website. VERY NICE. I was born in Kemi, It brings back memories and I still use the traditions today. :)

adelFeb 21, 2013 @ 1:13 pm
Very well put together, Great information. Would have like to see more photos. Would also like to visit some day.Thanks.
Josh Torgerson
This is a perfect site for a research report.
Thank you
jarmo hussi
Few comments: Alternative names: Finns mean all the finns, hämäläiset and karjalaiset are finnis tribes like savolaiset and pohjalaiset. poltta kaskea, kaskiviljelys is more right in form kaskenpoltto, kaskiviljelys, fish baked in a rye loaf is not leipäkukko but kalakukko, soured whole milk is viili, pulla and nisu means same thing but in different finnish dialects. There are two different styles of The woven woolen wall rugs, the one is ryijy and the other is raanu .

The administrative district or commune is kunta, not maalaiskunta.
Nihal Mahindaratne
Hello, this is very interesting, about Finland and Finish culture. I would love to visit Finland and experience the culture and hospitality of Finland, Norway and Sweeden and Denmark. Perhaps live with them for a while.
My Good Wishes and Warm Regards to the lands of Scandinavia.
Nihal Mahindaratne.
Mertze Dahlin
Paivaa, my Grandparents were from Oulu and I grew up with the Finnish language in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but now nobody to speak with in my relocated area in California, so I have lost most of my Finnish. This is a great article and will help me when I make a presentation soon about Finland to my friends and patients where I Volunteer in a V.A. Clinic
I met a Finnish guy but online and he seem like a nice guy and because of him I learning Finnish culture..very interesting.
Iszabella Maria
Amy Mondragon
Does anyone know how to transfer citizenship to Finland from the United States? Is there a refuge in the city or student transfer/ roommate situation? amymondra on
Thank you for such a great article. It's very enlightening. I love the place already. It looks like home to me. This is my dream place. I long to go there some day.
oluyeye Kolawole
Finland is a good country,small but talented been a good in mental and furniture making,engineering,global computer telecommunications and they give women to. Participate in politics and social welfare for the proud of u, Kudos to u Finnish
May i know something about Libraries of Finland.I am an Information Scientist from India
Thanks so much , this helped with my World Geography project!
Donna Gordon
I just found out I am part Finnish. We thought our Grandpa was German, but turns out he was probably Finnish. He spoke German so he was probably an early immigrant to Finland, or the other way around. I look like that side of the family: I'm a throwback to my Finnish great aunt and also did the same job as a seamstress and costume designer.
Gerald E. Baakko
Trying to find my finish background. Have many contacts in the UP, upper pennisula of Michigan, USA. Many have passed away. After reading many of these articles of Fin' i know why,how and react to certain daily life. I am Fin and proud. Will appreciate any comments.
Behailu Gebreyes
I am impressed.Details about Finland really attracted me to go there for study and also for earn money.
My Kentta grandpa was from Kuortane area. He (Juho or John) Kentta and 3 brothers left there probably 1890’s - his wife was a Niemi (Selma Niemi-Kentta) from whose around Jurva - but she was born here in the US. Anyone have contact with long-time Kuortane area resident Kenttas? Or Jurva area Niemis - I’m wanting to visit - possibly this summer. I think my Grandpa Kentta’s name was Maunu/Mauno. (Matt, Henry and Felix were the other brothers who left with Grandpa John. Our branch of family have been on central oregon coast since @ 1905. Grandma and grandpa met and married in Finnish mining community Minnesota - then moved to Butte MT, grandpa took Kaleva Order org back to Minn. 1900-01.
Becky Brown
This is a fine informative article about Finland, thank you very much. My husband is half Finn, his Mom hailed from Kaleva, Michigan. The surnames in his family are Mannisto, Rajala, Heppala, Seppala and Siltakorpi. If anyone here knows those names write to us! We recently purchased property in Southern Oregon and have met a few Finns here. We are going to build a sauna by the creek as I believe in the healing power of the sauna! We also plan to take her ashes to the family farm in Michigan and meet more of his cousins! I believe SISU is genetic because he has it almost to a fault!
Again Thank you for all the great details.

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