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Independence Day

Photo: Visit Finland

Itsenäisyyspäivä – The Finnish Independence Day

Imagine the following: You are home watching TV, flicking through the channels and every time you cross the public broadcaster the same pictures endures: a sheer endless line of men in tuxedos and women in finest garments queueing to shake a couple’s hands. For several hours. And you live in Finland. What does this mean? That it’s Independence Day of course! And you better be prepared to see this event occupy all newspapers and tabloids for days and days to come.

Contemporary celebrations: Spending family time and preparing for the Christmas season

In contemporary Finland, Independence Day is a national holiday on which everyone is enjoying a day off from work or studies to spend time with family and friends. The TV-broadcasted president’s reception at the presidential palace (“Linnan juhlat”) has become a long withstanding tradition that many follow in front of the screens. Earlier in the day however, students stand in the spotlight of attention. Large torch parades proceed through the student cities such as Tampere and Oulu to commemorate the students’ and intellectuals’ role in gaining independence for Finland. Every year, the president him/herself stands on the palace’s balcony in Helsinki to greet the parade, which then assembles on the beautiful Senate Square in the center of historical Helsinki to sing songs together.

Historical context: Independence from the Russian Empire

The original Finnish Independence Day took place on December 6, 1917. It was the day on which the Finnish parliament ratified a senate proposal on independence from the Russian Empire. In the confusion of the February and October Revolutions in Tsarist Russia, the future status of the Grand Duchy of Finland as an autonomous region under the Russian Empire was uncertain and fully out in the open. Reluctantly Mr. Lenin finally ensured Finland full independence about two weeks later. What followed was the “year 1918 war”, a civil-war like armed struggle all over Finland over what form the future Finnish nation state should take and who should be in power. This tragic episode of Finnish history is famously portrayed in Väinö Linna’s book series “Under the Northern Star”, in which the everyday struggle of families in these difficult times are powerfully described and which gave perspective to the hardships endured by both sides of the year 1918 war. Finland has maintained its independence during the struggles of the twentieth century until this very day.

Independence Day in Finland means many things to the people. It is a reminder of historical troubles and a call to move together closely with family and friends on a cold and dark winter day in December. It also is a warmup for the upcoming Christmas season and marks the time of the year when a tranquil and homely atmosphere wraps around the country with the best thing to do is spending time with the people closest to you.

Text: Jens Närger