In Finland, the holiday celebrations start way earlier that most, in a series of raucous and festive events called “pikkujoulut” or “little Christmas” parties.

For many tourists, a visit to Finland in December means one thing: an opportunity to meet the real Father Christmas. Rovaniemi, the capital of Finland’s northernmost Lapland region, attracts tens of thousands of visitors to its Santa Claus Village, a vast compound north of the Arctic Circle that Finland markets as “home to the true Santa”.

But for the average Finn, counting down to Christmas doesn’t require a trip to see Saint Nick. The holiday fun begins as early as the start of November in homes, offices, schools and even bowling alleys across the nation at pikkujoulut or “little Christmas” parties: festive events designed to celebrate the anticipation of the forthcoming holiday. And given their frequency and trademark hijinks, they make Finland the Christmas season’s supreme yuler.

On its surface, the basic concept of pikkujoulu looks like any other holiday party: a gathering of people with plenty of food and drink. Dishes can be as simple as cheese and crackers or as extravagant as a hearty Christmas buffet filled with traditional dishes, says Varpu Rusila, who runs courses on Finnish culture, happiness and travel. “Ham, potato, turnip and carrot casseroles, cold beetroot salad, smoked and cured salmon, and as a dessert, usually something with plums, puff pastries and gingerbread,” she said is often on the menu.

The holiday’s origins date back to solemn 19th-Century Advent celebrations, according to Eija Stark, archive development manager at the Finnish Literature Society. Finns adapted their Advent traditions from Sweden in the late 1800s, lighting candles the first four Sundays before Christmas, according to the University of Turku. By the early 1900s, these pre-Christmas Advent traditions had evolved into staged fairytale plays at school with a porridge treat to follow.The pre-Christmas parties begin as early as the start of November and can be anything from simple to lavish affairs (Credit: Anna-Liisa Miller)

The pre-Christmas parties begin as early as the start of November and can be anything from simple to lavish affairs (Credit: Anna-Liisa Miller)

When these children grew up, Stark said, they took the custom with them. “They started to celebrate the pre-Christmas parties in university unions around [the] 1920 and ’30s,” Stark said. As the number of university students grew, the tradition spread, continuing the plays – “joyful chronicles of the year’s events” – and the eating of porridge served with a hidden almond in it. “It was believed that the recipient of the almond would get married soon,” Stark added.

The parties have evolved today, but the traditional drink of choice remains relatively unchanged. “Almost all pikkujoulu parties serve glögi, aka hot mulled wine,” Rusila said. “You put raisins and almonds in it, too. It is delicious!” In no way, however, are the libations limited to glögi. At many pikkujoulut, beer, wine, vodka and Salmiakki Koskenkorva, a black liquorice liqueur popular with Finns, will often make an appearance.

Apply enough strong drink to a famously reserved population, and things can escalate quickly. While small parties might involve music, singing and sharing inexpensive gifts, others can become raucous affairs. In 2013, the start of the pikkujoulu season saw police called 400 times in one night in Helsinki, according to YLE, Finland’s national public broadcasting company.

If I remember correctly, Santa Claus himself was taken by the police unit well before the night was over. I believe Santa spent his night in a cell that time

“I recall one bowling club’s Christmas party where my friend and I were asked to perform many years ago,” says Toni Tikkanen, a musician and film editor who lives in Helsinki. “We were at the bowling alley, playing our own songs and some covers. The bowlers were drinking quite vigorously, and if I remember correctly, Santa Claus himself was taken by the police unit well before the night was over. I believe Santa spent his night in a cell that time.”At this time of year, creativity and silliness are encouraged (Credit: Elena Noeva/Alamy)

At this time of year, creativity and silliness are encouraged (Credit: Elena Noeva/Alamy)

Anna-Liisa Miller, a Finnish expat who lives in Victoria, Australia, hosted a relatively tame gathering this year with other Finnish emigrants and their small children that harkened back to her childhood. “I still remember pikkujoulu from my parents’ workplace when I was a kid. It was a family event planned with kids in mind. We ate Christmas rice porridge and some traditional Christmas sweets, and later Santa visited,” she said. But she also vividly recalls a pikkujoulu she hosted in high school at her family’s Finnish summer cottage, including all the party’s attendees going to the sauna and rolling naked in the snow.

“That was one of my favorite memories,” Miller said. “From memory, it wasn’t a particularly Christmassy one; I think even our snacks were just chips and candy. But it was all about having fun.”

In Finland, Christmas is normally celebrated at home with family and involves formal traditions – “such as Christmas service at the church or visiting the cemetery to leave candles on loved ones’ graves”, said Miller. But Johanna Ovaska, a school principal in the town of Imatra explained that “pikkujoulu is the opposite”. It’s a time where creativity and silliness are encouraged, and is mainly celebrated with other people and almost never with your own family. “Pikkujoulu is all about the non-serious stuff: food, drinks, music and friends,” she said.

While there are increasing numbers of sober pikkujoulu parties, the focus on friends and fun might account for the possibility of merrymaking spiraling into mischief.

“When you are celebrating pikkujoulu, [it is] expected that you are social and get to know new people,” Rusila said. “This is the opposite of the Finnish cultural norm where we are being polite when we are not disturbing other people.”With just six hours of daylight at this time of year, locals need a little extra fun (Credit: Bruev/Getty Images)

With just six hours of daylight at this time of year, locals need a little extra fun (Credit: Bruev/Getty Images)

Tikkanen puts it this way: “If throughout the rest of the year at work, Finns tend to be quiet and civilised and antisocial, during Christmas parties, things quickly get out of hand.”

If throughout the rest of the year at work, Finns tend to be quiet and civilised and antisocial, during Christmas parties, things quickly get out of hand

For other countries, that level of revelry might be limited to one pre-Christmas function or saved for a wild New Year’s bash. But Tikkanen says pikkujoulu parties happen constantly in the lead-up to Christmas, with Finns attending as many as a dozen pikkujoulut in November and December. And that’s for a good reason, added Ovaska: “I think one of the reasons is that autumn is really long and dark here, so pikkujoulu is a little light and fun in the middle of darkness.”

Helsinki’s average temperature in December is 0.5C, and there is typically 120mm of snow throughout the month. Pair that with only six hours of daylight, and one can begin to understand Finns’ need for a little extra jollification.

Unlike other cultures where the fear of post-party gossip might discourage some individuals from carousing, Ovaska says holiday escapades are taken in stride in Finland. “Of course, if someone did something really bad like harassing or insulting another person, it would be taken seriously. But anything else would be laughed at and joked about,” Ovaska said.Finnish people are renowned for being quiet and reserved – apart from at this time of year  (Credit: Finmiki Images/Getty Images)

Finnish people are renowned for being quiet and reserved – apart from at this time of year (Credit: Finmiki Images/Getty Images)

Tikkanen agrees. Provided the incident in question is mere https://mendapatkankol.com foolishness, water cooler talk might be limited to “a bit of hushed conversation and with a smirk like ‘Teppo did it again’, then, in most cases, it would probably be left at that. It is what it is. These things happen. Let’s move on.”

The necessity for finding joy in a season of darkness is too essential to spoil with the fear of humiliation or a damaged reputation.

“For most of the year in Finland, it’s so cold and dark that a Finn will always seize even the smallest reason to drink and celebrate,” said Tikkanen. “Perhaps pikkujoulut are more of a state of mind.”

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