POPULATION: 5 million
LANGUAGE: Finnish; Swedish
RELIGION: Christianity: Lutheran Church; Orthodox Church; small groups of Jehovah's Witnesses, Adventists, Catholics, Mormons, Baptists; Judaism
As an independent nation, Finland is less than one hundred years old. The Finns, however, have been around for since the eighth century. Known for their independence and ability to stand up to adversity, the Finns were among the few neighbors of the former Soviet Union who were not overpowered by it politically and militarily. In 1995, after years of debate, Finland joined the European Community (EC).
Finland is one of the countries that make up Scandinavia, the region that includes Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Iceland and Finland are the world's two northern-most nations. About a quarter of Finland lies above the Arctic Circle; this area is covered with snow half the year while experiencing brief summers when the sun shines for up to twenty-four hours a day (giving it the nickname "the land of the midnight sun").
Finland has flat terrain, is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, and has more lakes than any other country. Most of its terrain is covered by spruce, pine, and birch forests. With 5 million people, Finland is one of the world's least densely populated countries. There is a Swedish-speaking minority of about 250,000 people, as well as smaller populations of Lapps (or Sami) and Gypsies.
About 93 percent of Finns speak Finnish, while approximately 6 percent speak Swedish. Finnish is not related to any of the major European languages, although it resembles Estonian. Finnish is characterized by the use of many vowels and few consonants. It doesn't have separate words for articles, prepositions, or pronouns, which are indicated by altered word endings. It is a completely phonetic language, which means that there are no silent letters and no variations in the pronunciation of letters, as are frequent in English and many other languages.
Finnish folktales tend not to feature royalty, fairies, or talking animals. Many are about simple people who confront challenging problems.
Finns have a series of epic poems that define the national character and history. These poem were sung when groups of people were together as a way of maintaining the culture. In the mid-1800s, Elias Lönnrot (1802–84), a physician, transcribed them for the first time. His book, the Kalevala (kah-LEV-eh-lah), is considered the national book of the Finns.
About 90 percent of the Finnish population belongs to the state-supported Lutheran Church, although only 2 percent regularly attend services. An estimated 1 percent of Finns belong to the Finnish Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Church, and smaller numbers adhere to a variety of faiths including Jehovah's Witness, Adventist, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Baptist, and Jewish. There is also a civil register of individuals not affiliated with any church.
While having a reputation for maintaining a reserved demeanor in public, Finns are very fond of celebrations, many of which involve heavy drinking. Itsenäisyyspäivä (it-sen-AY-see-SPY-veh), Independence Day, is celebrated on December 6, with torchlit parades and fireworks. Joulu (YO-loo), Christmas, is the most important holiday of the year for Finns. Festivities begin at noon on December 24 with the ringing of church bells. At sunset families place candles at the graves of their loved ones. The Christmas Eve sauna is followed by a festive meal. Celebrations last through Christmas until December 26. Vappu (VA-poo) on May 1 combines a celebration of spring and the recognition of the Socialist labor day. The holiday is marked by parades and speeches. Juhannus (YOO-hahn-us) or Midsummer is celebrated in late June with bonfires throughout the country. Other holidays include New Year's Day and Loppianen (lah-pee-lie-nen), the End of Christmas, celebrated on January 6 (Epiphany).
Finnish children celebrate both a birthday and a name day, a day chosen by the parents for an annual celebration. Christian Finns celebrate confirmation at about age fourteen. When graduating from secondary school, Finns celebrate penkinpainajaiset (peh-kin-PIE-nah-yay-set), the last day of school. The graduating students dress in outrageous costumes and drive through town tossing candy to children. It is usually celebrated on the third Thursday in February. Marriages are fairly traditional events. Following a death, it is customary to give away the deceased's clothes as soon as possible. The third Saturday in June is set aside as Graveyard Cleaning Day.
A well-known word used to describe the Finnish character is sisu, which connotes a spirit of perseverance and resilience. Finns are also known for their caution, reserve, and silence. A Finnish joke illustrates this emotional reserve: "A Finnish man loved his wife so deeply…that he almost told her."
According to a Finnish proverb, "silence is a person's best friend, for it remains behind after the rest has gone." When Finns do speak, their speech is usually quiet; loud conversation in public will tend to draw stares. Finns also value their privacy. During the sauna, which is a national obsession, the closest of friends and even family members generally remain quiet. There is, in fact, a famous joke about two Finns, the best of friends, taking a sauna. The first Finn, after opening a bottle of viina, the national alcohol, asks the second how he is. An hour later, during which neither Finn has spoken, the second replies: "Are we here to babble or to take a sauna?"
The Finns have the world's highest rate of coffee consumption per person. Coffee drinking in Finland constitutes a ritual that has been compared to the tea ceremony of Japan. Coffee may mark a time of day (afternoon coffee, evening coffee), a place (sauna coffee), or a special occasion (nameday coffee, engagement coffee, funeral coffee). At its simplest, coffee is accompanied by a sweet bread called pulla ; more elaborate coffees may include a salty dish as well as a pulla ring or buns, cookies, and cakes.
The serving table is often adorned with fresh flowers.
|my name is…||
ni-MEN-ee ahn …
There are three basic types of dwellings in Finland: kerrostalot (kair-ROSE-tah-lott) or apartment complexes, omakotitalot (ohmack-OAT-ee-tah-lott) or single-family homes, and rivitalo (ree-VEE-tah-low) or row-houses. The typical Finnish apartment is only two or three rooms and a kitchen. In many single-family homes, a shower and sauna take the place of a bathtub. Most Finns own (or rent or borrow) a summer cottage in the picturesque countryside.
Finland provides the entire population with health insurance. The sauna has traditionally been associated with medical care; women commonly gave birth in saunas before hospital birth delivery became the norm.
In 1906, Finland became the first nation to give women the vote in national elections. As of the late 1990s, almost 40 percent of its legislators are women, and women represent over 60 percent of the students taking university examinations. However, the average earnings of women are still only 75 percent as high as those of men.
Traditional marriages are still the norm. By the late 1990s, it was common in cities for unmarried couples to live together, but these arrangements are still often thought of as "trial marriages." Finns get married in a traditional Christian wedding ceremony, followed by a party hosted by the bride's parents, either at their home or a rented hall. When the bride and groom cut their wedding cake, Finns have the custom of predicting that whoever has the upper-most grip on the knife will be the "boss" of the marriage. Traditionally, Finnish children lived at home until they married. This has changed as the country has become more affluent, and young adult Finns now move into their own apartments to pursue careers. The family still gathers together on Sunday for a meal and sauna.
Finns of both sexes sport modern Western-style clothes, including men's suits for work or formal occasions and jeans for casual wear. The traditional national costume has many regional variations but basically consists of a long, full, gathered skirt (often solid black with a red border), white blouse, vest, and cap for women, and a full-sleeved white shirt with stand-up collar, colorful waistcoat, and trousers for men. Such outfits are rarely worn, however, except in association with festivals or for the amusement of tourists.
The growing season in Finland is short. When fresh vegetables and fruit are available, they are served in abundance. Many families have vegetable gardens and grow apple trees, gooseberries and black currents.
The pancake will sink as it cools. Cut into squares and serve topped with strawberry sauce.
Adapted from Previdi, Taimi. The Best of Finnish Cooking. Madison, Wis.: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1995.
The Finns eat three meals a day: breakfast (aamiainen) , hot lunch (lounas) , and dinner (päivällinen) , eaten at around 5:00 or 6:00 PM . As in other parts of Scandinavia, the "cold table" plays a central role in the Finnish diet. The typical buffet of fish, meat, cheeses, and fresh vegetables eaten with bread and butter is called voileipäpöytä by the Finns. Hot dishes include kalakukko, a pie made with small fish and pork; Karelian rye pastries stuffed with potatoes or rice; and reindeer stew. A popular delicacy is viili, similar to yogurt. A common breakfast consists of cereal, hot porridge, and cold cuts. The oven pancake is a favorite dessert for many occasions, especially at Juhannus, or Midsummer. A recipe accompanies this enty.
Formal schooling starts at the age of seven. All students complete a basic nine-year program, which is compulsory and free. The school year lasts from mid-August to the end of May, with a long Christmas break and a one-week skiing holiday in the spring. Students learn at least two other languages, usually English, Russian, French, or German. At around age sixteen, students may opt for either vocational school (to learn a trade or technical skill), or secondary school (to prepare for college). Finland has thirteen universities and twelve colleges. Tuition fees are small and the government provides assistance to all students.
Painters of the early 1800s, known as the Golden Era, painted romantic works glorifying the great Finnish forests. In classical music, composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) is considered to be Finland's greatest composer. His most famous work, Finlandia, is highly nationalistic and was banned by the Russians when they occupied Finland. Finland's most famous architect is Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), a great builder of churches, private homes and museums. F. E. Sillanpää (1888–1964) received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1939, the only Finn to win the award.
A popular Finnish folk instrument is the kantele, a harp-like string instrument usually made of birch.
The work week in Finland is thirty-nine hours. Trade unions wield considerable power in the country. Fifty-eight percent of the country works in the services industry. In the late 1990s, Finland's high unemployment did not affect some sectors of the economy, especially the high technology fields of computing and cellular communications.
The primary national sport is skiing, which was invented by the Finns. (Finnish skis have been found dating back 3,700 years.) There are more than 200 ski jumps in Finland, and at least one can be found in most towns and villages. Finnish children are introduced to winter sports at a young age. School classes break for outdoor recess every forty-five minutes. Lätkä (LAHT-ka, hockey) is a favorite winter sport. In summer, pesis (PEHS-sis, Finnish baseball) is popular both for playing and watching.
Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973), known as "The Flying Finn," was a famous runner and national hero who won nine Olympic gold medals between 1920 and 1928.
The universal leisure-time activity in Finland is relaxing in the sauna. The Finns invented the sauna—a structure, usually wooden, that is heated by hot rocks. There are 1.2 million—almost one per house-hold—in Finland.
The study of folk art is a popular major in universities, and the Folklore Archives of the Finnish Literature Society is the largest such collection in the world. A traditional craft that is flourishing today is the hand-woven ryijy (RYE-yah) rug made from wool, which dates back to the fourteenth century. Originally used as lap rugs for warmth on boats or sleighs, ryijy rugs eventually evolved into decorative hangings. Men made furniture, harnesses, and the puukko (POO-koh, sheath knife) used for hunting and fishing. Marimekko fabrics pioneered by Armi Ratia (1912–79) are popular in countries around the world.
Alcoholism is a pervasive problem in Finland, as it is in the neighboring countries of Norway, Sweden, and Russia. As of the late 1990s, Finland had a problem of high unemployment, with the rate hovering around 20 percent, the highest in western Europe.
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Irwin, John. The Finns and the Lapps. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973.
Lander, Patricia Slade, and Claudette Charbonneau. The Land and People of Finland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.
Previdi, Taimi. The Best of Finnish Cooking. Madison, Wis.: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1995.
Solsten, Eric, and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. Finland: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.
Embassy of Finland, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.finland.org/ , 1998.
Helsinki, Finland. [Online] Available http://www.hel.fi/english , 1997.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. [Online] Available http://virtual.finland.fi , 1998.
World Travel Guide, Finland. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/fi/gen.html , 1998.