Christmas in Europe
Christmas traditions in Switzerland and in Finland
Christmas season enchants the whole of Europe. A Christmas tree, a visit to the church and a family get-together are common to almost all countries. However, each country has kept its own customs and traditions and celebrates Christmas in its own unique way. Since ifolor has a location not only in Switzerland but also in Finland, we would like to take a closer look at the Christmas traditions of these countries. Learn about the differences between these two cultures and how Christmas Day is typically spent in Switzerland and Finland. This is how we create the anticipation of Christmas time!
Christmas in Switzerland – Christmas with the whole family
In the morning of the 24th of December, everybody wakes up full of anticipation on the forthcoming day. School children can already enjoy their Christmas holidays and help parents with their Christmas preparations. Even if some people have to work until 4 pm on Christmas day, the sweet surprises from the Advent Calendar help to bridge the time faster. Traditionally, children are given an Advent Calendar on December 1st as a gift – but more and more adults sweeten their time until Christmas. This is filled with (mostly) sweet surprises and has 24 little doors. Every day until Christmas, the owner of the calendar is allowed to open one door.
Many families take off after breakfast to go cut down the perfect Christmas tree. It should not be too big and not too small. In addition, the branches of the fir must ideally be far apart. In Switzerland, according to tradition, real candles are attached to the tree. In order for the tree not to catch on fire, the candles must be attached very carefully to the tree, which was just cut down and is thus still fresh and not dry. After the perfect tree has been brought home, it is to be decorated. Depending on the family tradition and region, children are allowed to help, or the finished Christmas tree remains hidden until Christmas dinner and is then presented to the children as a surprise.
In the afternoon, the family sits together, reads Christmas stories and listens to Christmas carols or even sings some themselves. Due to its multilingualism, Switzerland has an extensive collection of Christmas carols that can be sung together. In the background, the Advent wreath glows – a netting of fir branches with Christmas decoration and four large candles. On each of the four Sundays until Christmas, a candle is burned. On the first Sunday of Advent, the first candle burns, on the second Sunday of Advent, the first and the second candle burn, at the fourth Advent, all candles burn. Many families light up the Advent wreath for the last time at Christmas and let the candles burn down.
Depending on the region and religion, the presents are delivered on December 24th by different characters. In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the presents are placed under the tree by the Christ Child in a quiet moment when the children are not in the room. In the western part of Switzerland, the presents are given by Père Noël or Santa Claus. Within the family, the presents are then unpacked and the sparkles in the children's eyes are captured with photos.
In the evening they eat together. Depending on the region, there are different traditions, but one of Switzerland’s favorite Christmas dinners is cheese fondue, raclette and fondue chinoise. In the pre-Christmas period, many families like to bake cookies. These are eaten on the Advent Sundays and on Christmas Eve as a dessert.
After dinner, many families go to church to attend the service and sing Christmas carols with the community and listen to the Christmas story read by the pastor. After the service, the family spends time together before everyone goes to bed.
How Caroline, Communications Manager at ifolor Switzerland, celebrates Christmas with her family:
“December 24 is the most important day in my family. The men take care of the Christmas tree, which I then decorate as the creative member in the family. The feast is in the hands of Mommy, with the exception of the meat – this is for us men’s business ;-)
After the culinary delight, the older family members attend the Christmas service, while the younger ones go to a Christmas party in a club in the city. The best club night of the year!”
Christmas in Finland – Traditions and customs
Christmas is also celebrated on December 24th in Finland. Traditionally, Christmas morning in Finland starts with a breakfast together. For this, many families prepare a rice porridge called Riisipuuro. Either sugar and cinnamon or different fruits are served. There is a tradition of hiding a whole almond in one of the ready-made rice porridge bowls. The one who finds the almond in his porridge can have a wish.
Afterwards, many families in Finland set out to find the perfect Christmas tree and then decorate it. At 12 noon, the family gathers in front of the TV and follows the solemn announcement of Christmas peace in Finland. This announcement takes place in Turku, the former capital of Finland, and has been a part of the Finnish Christmas traditions since the 13th century. After Christmas peace has been announced, all of Finland is silent. All shops close and public transportation no longer operate.
Many families use the quiet hours to visit the graves of deceased relatives in the cemetery. Here, candles and lanterns are lit to commemorate and this transforms the cemetery, together with the sunset at about 3 p.m., into a sea of lights. Before or afterwards, many Finns visit the Christmas service and listen to the Christmas story. Before the festivities really begin with the family in the evening, many Finns enjoy a sauna visit and then drive home.
At home, Christmas dinner is prepared. Traditionally, Christmas ham belongs to the festive menu. This is an oven-baked ham, which is eaten with homemade mustard and bread. But different casseroles are also prepared for the feast. For dessert there are homemade Christmas cookies called Joulutorttu. These are usually star-shaped puff pastry filled with plum or apricot jam.
After dinner, Joulupukki (Santa Claus) visits the families and hands over the presents to the children. Many families rent a Santa Claus for the evening, who knocks on the front door with a big sack of presents. The Finns believe that real Santa Claus lives in Finland; more specifically, in the mountain Korvatunturi in Lapland. It is shaped like a big ear so that Santa Claus can hear the wishes of all children. By the way, there is an official post office for Santa Claus in Finland. If children send in a letter in time until the beginning of December, then there is a reply from Santa Claus in the mailbox until Christmas.
After all family members have unpacked and tried out all the presents, the day slowly comes to an end. A few more Christmas songs are sung and family members sit together comfortably until it’s time to go to bed.
Satu Kurlin-Laakkonen works at production for ifolor in Kerava and told us about her Christmas traditions:
“We start Christmas preparations in the beginning of December by decorating our home for Christmas together with the family. Colourful hangings and frills on the front door, Christmas lights and poinsettias in the garden. Every year, we fetch our collection of small wooden elves from previous Christmases out of the basement and put them up nicely, and each Christmas there will be one new elf figure added in the collection. And how do we know which of the elves are bought when? We look at the bottom of each elf and see that he year is marked there. We decorate our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, just before we set out for Christmas sauna.”