Christmas in Finland is for helping those in need

By Eva Tang

In times of material abundance, making donations instead of giving presents is popular in Finland during the Christmas holiday season, according to Jari Seilonen, Representative of Finland Trade Centre in Taipei.

“There are people who have everything, and people who need a lot,” he said, adding that it makes him feel happy to know someone in the world has received something he contributed.

“自己快樂,別人受惠” he added in Chinese, which means you feel rewarded knowing those in need get help. Seilonen started learning Mandarin Chinese when he was in Beijing, and continued to improve when he moved to Taiwan three years ago.

“I would definitely be at my parents’ home if I were to spend Christmas in Finland,” said Seilonen, “I am still a bit traditional.”
When not in Finland, Seilonen celebrates Christmas by having Finnish Food. The main dishes in a typical Finnish Christmas dinner include ham, salted salmon, casseroles and rice porridge. Casseroles are made of “Rutabaga” or yellow turnip, and rice porridge is cooked with milk, butter, sugar and almond.

“You bake the ham in the oven overnight,” he said, “it is absolutely delicious.”

“Whoever gets the almond in the porridge is said to have good luck in the coming year,” he added.
Besides Christmas ham, salmon is an important part of Finland’s food culture. Seilonen said that if there were 5 million people in the country, there would be five hundred thousand to one million salmon served at Christmas.

Christmas is a time children are particularly excited about because they receive presents from parents and relatives. Seilonen said that in Finland, Santa Claus comes in through the door with a bag of gifts, unlike in the U.S. where Santa comes down through the chimney. He has played Santa for his cousins and nephews several times in the past.

“Santa walks with a cane, so children can hear him come,” he said. “He knocks on the door and asks, ‘are there well-behaved children here?’ and children sing a welcome song for him.”

Born in the country that tradition says is the dwelling place of Santa Claus and his reindeers, Seilonen has observed that families were bigger sixty years ago and that they used to live together or at least nearby. “These days, people are more individualistic and secularized.”
“Tradition doesn’t play an important role in people’s lives anymore; Christmas has become a holiday for people to throw parties, travel, or find whatever way to celebrate it.”

For this coming Christmas, Seilonen plans to go to Indonesia, where his wife is from, and spend the holidays with her family.
“When I was young, Christmas was always white; Christmas without snow does not feel like one for me.”

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