The sixth of December is not Nikolaus in Finland. There is only one man in a red coat: the Joulupukki, the Santa Claus. On the 6th of December, Finland celebrates the Birth of the Nation. The day on which Finland proclaimed its independence from Russia. In celebration of this day, there is a church service in Helsinki Cathedral, a reception at the Palace of the President, accompanied by a whole series of demonstrations. The many Finns, who don't have to dress up for the reception of the president, often meet with friends for dinner and watch the TV program during the evening. Each year, the same film runs in the afternoon. It narrates the journey of a machine-gun force that fights its way to Russia during the Finnish-Soviet continuation war. Here is a little taste (and for all Saving Private Ryan trained film-army specialists to look at 01:58.)
The real highlight of the day is a live broadcast. It is a multi-hour handshaking tour-de-force of the president and his wife. This procedure takes place in the president's palace in a room with several doors. They open one after the other, and the highest dignitaries, veterans, officials, politicians and ambassadors are queuing up. It's where the crème de la crème of Finland meets, and since the country remains sparsely populated with its population of five and a half million (as a comparison: Germany has more than eighty-two million inhabitants), and about two thousand of these people are in the Palace of the President. It's rather likely that you know someone there. As dull as the ceremony is, it's also exciting to look at the different people in their fancy dresses. It can happen that an ex-girlfriend or a school mate did something extraordinary and therefore has the honour of shaking hands with the president. You can see people from all social strata and areas of life. At a glance, you can see the tip of the country. (I would be happy to see such a thing in Berlin once.) After that, there is the inevitable television event on a square with a big stage in the centre of Helsinki. There, young and old Finns, foreigners, visitors and the current stars of the nation celebrate a show, which broadcasts to the remotest corners of Finland.
My sixth of December I spent with my Finns and celebrated much the same way. Well, we didn't watch the movie "The Unknown Soldier", but we enjoyed an excellent family feast with friends. The little sign in their kitchen says "This kitchen takes no complaints" and since none of us had any, we could enjoy every last bite, from the reindeer to the pralines with the small Finnish flags. As it is with small parties and children, it was loud and wild, a day filled with laughter and delicious Finnish food. M. even lost one of his milk teeth! (One more milestone.) When we were at home, we watched the rest of the handshake ceremony and put the Finnish flag away. The biggest epiphany that this event gave me was that Bomfunk MC (and his hit song "Freestyler") was from Finnland. Then we went to bed. Finland was ninety-nine years old, and the celebrations for the centennial birthday would begin tomorrow and last for 365 days. A Party that lasts for 365 days is called Finnish perseverance.