Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää Suomi!
Published: December 5, 2019
Today, the Republic of Finland celebrates 102 years of independence. People gather with their families and friends to reflect on the meaning of this important day and honor the hard work and the sisu of the generations that lifted the small and poor nation into a thriving Nordic welfare state. But what is the history behind this day and what is it that makes independence so significant for the Finnish people? And what kinds of traditions are associated with the celebrations?
There is a common saying among the modern Finnish people that it is like winning the jackpot in the lottery to be born in Finland (“On lottovoitto syntyä Suomeen”). However, it has not always been like this. At the beginning of its independence, Finland was a poor agrarian society with low gross domestic product and modest life expectancy. Finland gained its independence in December, 1917, as an outcome of great political instability in Russia. The senate of Finland gave the declaration of independence on the 4th of December, and it was ratified by the parliament on the 6th. It was later decided that the independence day of Finland would be celebrated on the 6th of December. The independence of Finland was recognized a month later by Russia, and followed by other nations, including the United States in May 1919.
Finland encountered a great threat to its independence during World War II, first battling the Soviet troops in the Winter War (1939-1940). Although fighting alone and being massively overpowered by its eastern attacker, Finland was able to achieve a defensive victory and conserve the regime of western democracy after the war. Without a unified and determined nation, brave soldiers, and skilled military leadership and politicians, all could have been lost. Later, the two countries clashed again in the Continuation War (1942-1944). While Finland maintained its independence, it did not come without a cost. Finland lost about 10 percent of its land area in the eastern region of Karelia and around 400,000 Karelians had to be resettled in other parts of the country. Finland was also burdened with a massive amount of war reparations to be paid to the Soviet Union, which were paid in the form of exported industrial products until 1952.
Through decades of resilient work and careful societal development, Finland gradually grew into today’s post-industrial information society. Thanks to equal opportunity to general and higher education, the modern Finland has a high average level of education. Finland is known as an exporting country for technology, lumber and metal industries. Although Finns may be known as modest people, they are extremely proud of their independence and grateful for the hard work of the past generations in making Finland an exceptional success story.
On independence day, Finnish people honor war veterans for their sacrifices in protecting and maintaining the independence of the nation. Freedom and independence is maintained by not only the Finnish Defence Force but also by Finnish men who have the honor and duty today of participating in military service.
Independence day is a national holiday in Finland, and the people celebrate it through certain established traditions. The day begins with the televised flag-raising ceremony in Tähtitorninmäki, Helsinki, which includes singing the national anthem, Maamme. Many families have their own flagpole in the yard so they can also raise the Finnish flag to celebrate independence.
The president of Finland, along with the parliament and other high state officials participate in a church service in the Helsinki Cathedral. The president may promote military personnel and award citizens for their achievements with medals. The Finnish Defence Forces organize celebratory parades all around the country. Cities and communities also arrange their own local celebrations, which may include speeches, performances, and fireworks.
As perhaps one of the most recognizable traditions, many families burn two blue-and-white candles in front of a window in the evening. Some people like to watch the movie Tuntematon sotilas, based on the book with the same name by Väinö Linna , which depicts the struggles of Finnish soldiers in the battles of the Continuation War. The day ends with a festive dinner and huddling up in the couch to watch the televised independence day reception hosted by the president of Finland at the presidential residence. People who get invited to this reception come from different walks of life, and include war veterans, athletes, artists, state officials, politicians, and people who have contributed to the well-being of the society through unselfish acts, among others. It is a great honor to receive an invitation to the reception. The evening wraps up with a performance of the hymn Finlandia, composed by the Finnish national composer Jean Sibelius. The lyrics of the hymn embody the spirit of the Finnish people so strongly that one can often see a few tears dropping from the corners of people’s eyes by the end of the song.
Independence is something we often take for granted, and that is why independence day is a good time to stop and think about what it truly means. As a native Finn, independence is invaluable to our small northern nation, because without it things might have turned out very different for us. I feel truly privileged and thankful for having been born and raised in a country where democracy and rule of law are valued highly, and where people can pull together and trust each other. I hope that Finland will continue stick to the important values and principles that have carried us this far. When abroad, I feel a sense of pride to tell others about my Finnish heritage.
Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää Suomi! Happy independence day Finland!