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December 6th: the story behind Finland’s Independence Day

Finland’s solemn national day traditions explained

Finland’s National Day, known as Itsenäisyyspäivä, is observed on December 6th, marking the historic 1917 declaration of independence from Russia. More than just a celebration, it’s a solemn remembrance of the journey to sovereignty and the sacrifices made. Across Finland, from the serene Lapland to the lively Helsinki, the day is steeped in reflection and national pride. It also honours Finland’s resilience during World War II. This article delves into the events leading up to this significant date, the cultural meaning of Itsenäisyyspäivä, and how a typical Finn observes this day.

Finlands Independence Day

When and why is Finland’s National Day celebrated?

Finland’s National Day, or Itsenäisyyspäivä as it’s known in Finnish, is observed with profound respect on December 6th, commemorating the country’s historic declaration of independence from Russian rule in 1917. More than a mere celebration, Independence Day serves as a solemn act of remembrance, reflecting on Finland’s arduous journey towards sovereignty and the sacrifices made to achieve it.

This day stands as a potent reminder of the Finnish people’s resilience and determination in their pursuit of self-governance. Across the nation, from the snow-dusted landscapes of Lapland to the vibrant streets of Helsinki, Finns pause to honour and remember the valour of those who fought and gave their lives in the quest for freedom, turning Independence Day into a day of serious reflection and national pride.

Furthermore, Finland’s Independence Day is also a tribute to the nation’s resilience during World War II, particularly in the Winter and Continuation Wars against the Soviet Union. These conflicts were crucial in defending the independence gained in 1917. The post-war era, marked by reconstruction and reparations, further showcased Finland’s perseverance. Itsenäisyyspäivä thus symbolises not just the break from Russian rule, but also the steadfast spirit of the Finnish people in protecting their freedom through times of adversity.

Finlands Independence Day

What are the events leading up to December 6th 1917?

In the tumultuous year of 1917, amidst the shadows of World War I and Russia’s internal chaos, Finland’s destiny was quietly unfolding. The February Revolution in Russia set the stage, toppling Tsar Nicholas II and leaving a power vacuum that rippled all the way to Finland. This once-autonomous Grand Duchy, positioned under Russian dominion, began to stir with aspirations of self-rule.

As the year progressed, the October Revolution saw the Bolsheviks seize power, further destabilizing Russia. Finland, seizing the moment, made a daring leap towards destiny. On December 4th, the Finnish Senate, led by the determined Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, declared independence. Just two days later, in a move that would forever change the nation’s trajectory, the Finnish Parliament, amidst a whirlwind of excitement and uncertainty, ratified this declaration. December 6th, 1917, emerged not just as a date but as a symbol of Finnish resilience and the dawn of a new, sovereign nation.

Finlands Independence Day

What does Independence Day mean for Finnish culture?

Independence Day holds a distinct place in Finnish culture, especially when compared to National Days in other Nordic countries. Celebrated in the depths of winter on December 6th, it contrasts with the generally brighter, more festive national days of its Nordic neighbours.

The winter setting in Finland, with its short days and long, cold nights, lends a unique, introspective quality to the day. This solemn and reflective mood stands in stark contrast to the lively summer celebrations of Sweden’s National Day on June 6th or Norway’s Constitution Day on May 17th, both marked by parades, outdoor festivities and a more jubilant atmosphere.

In Finnish society, Itsenäisyyspäivä is a time of quiet contemplation and remembrance. The Finnish approach to their National Day is subdued, focusing on the country’s journey to independence and the sacrifices made to achieve it.

Finlands Independence Day

What does the day look like for a typical Finn?

Independence Day in Finland unfolds with a series of solemn and respectful events that reflect the nation’s history and spirit. The day traditionally begins with a ceremonial flag-raising at Helsinki’s Tähtitorninmäki park. This event, featuring speeches and choral singing, is a significant moment of national pride and is broadcast live, marking the start of the country’s observances.

Lighting two blue and white candles on windowsills in the evening is a deeply ingrained tradition in Finnish homes. This custom, with roots in historical acts of protest and remembrance, brings a personal touch to the national celebration, uniting households across the country in a shared act of remembrance.

A key feature of the day is the universally Christian service held at Helsinki Cathedral, attended by state leaders, government officials and parishioners. This service, symbolizing national unity and reflection, is a poignant reminder of Finland’s journey to independence and is televised for the nation to join in solidarity.

In various university towns, graduates participate in torchlight processions, bringing a sense of community and academic honour to the celebrations. This tradition adds a youthful and hopeful dimension to the day’s commemorations.

The Independence Day reception at the Presidential Palace, featuring the President of Finland’s speech, is one of the day’s most anticipated highlights. This event, attended by a wide array of dignitaries and televised for public viewing, has become a significant focal point of national pride and interest.

The national Independence Day parade of the Defense Forces, a large military spectacle, is organized in different cities annually. This parade, often including an air force flyover, draws significant public interest and is a display of national strength and unity.

Lastly, the broadcast of Tuntematon sotilas (The Unknown Soldier) by Yleisradio has become a staple of the day’s observances. By 1989, this iconic film had been seen by 2.8 million viewers in Finnish cinemas, earning it the title of the most-watched film of all time in Finnish cinemas. The film, an adaptation of Finnish author Väinö Linna’s novel, vividly portrays the experiences of a Finnish infantry unit during the Continuation War against the Soviet Union in World War II. Its significance in Finnish culture is further highlighted by a 2012 poll conducted by Yle, in which critics ranked it as the fourth-best Finnish film ever made. However, in a twist that adds to its intriguing legacy, Tuntematon sotilas has also been named the most overrated Finnish film. Watch it and decide for yourself …

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