Advent Calendar 2017: 6 - Finland
Dec 6th – Finland
Glad självständihetsdag! Happy Independence Day! Today is the 100th anniversary of Finnish Independence and we are here in Helsinki to celebrate with Cora’s extended family! We took the boat over last night, it’s a mini- cruise that is very affordable, and we get to bring the car. It takes time though, the boat leaves at 4:30 pm from Stockholm and arrives the next day at 10am in Helsinki. You can sing karaoke in Finnish most of the night if you like, we went to bed.
A significant part of our life in Sweden is Finland. Our family is part of a small Swedish-speaking Finnish community that is Finnish first and Finlandsvensk (a very close) second. They are not Swedish even though it’s their mother-tongue. It’s a micro-culture that is lovely to be a part of. The accent is specific to this small community, the community has its own specific history, and it’s filled with warm people who I’ve been honored to know. Being Finnish citizens is how we get to be here. I’ve been coming in the summer since 2008 and Cora since, well, since she was born. Coming from a small minority population means our experience isn’t the standard Finnish experience, and it is pretty special.
We are lucky to have island places to enjoy in the summer and this past summer was a dream of watching the countryside transition from late spring to late summer. We watched the fields change from green to gold and watched the harvest come in. Even Felix was mesmerized, after all there was a rich tapestry of farm equipment to watch. It’s beautiful.
Finnish people have been living in so many parts for hundreds of years. It’s weighty to feel how far they’ve come from a pretty hard agrarian/maritime life to what the country is today. In many places, families have been in the same community for 400 years or more. And by “same community” I mean living on the same island… not a big one. The churches have memorials to seamen and fishermen who saved king’s ships in the 1600s. The men who saved them have relatives living there now. It’s a big contrast from the land of “everyone is from everywhere,” which is also beautiful, just different. When you walk in the woods there is a heavy sense of spirits of all kinds around you. Good thing the summer sun was out until 11pm!
Today for Finland’s 100th Independence Day Celebration people all over Finland people will be lighting candles in graveyards, particularly for veterans like Cora’s grandfather who fought to preserve Finnish independence, and to remember past generations who worked to make it possible. It’s tangible here, the connection between independence day and those who earned it. It’s not been that long. And Russia is always looming at the threshold in Karelia.
There will be fireworks and balls to attend. I’m excited to see what I can see! The fireworks aren’t till 10 pm, so we’ll be inside staying warm somewhere. It did snow today… Pictures will come tomorrow so I can post this and go enjoy!
It’s a funny thing being a Swedish-Finn in Sweden. People recognize the accent even in my Swedish, and thus that I am not Swedish but also not so much of *. In fact, my hairdresser told me that it’s so unthinkable to people that I wouldn’t speak fluent Swedish because of my Finnish-Swedish accent. It’s like a non-native English-speaker who looks like they are from the native culture having an Austin, Texas accent. It’s from such a small community that who would start there with a new language? So almost no one switches to English with me. A blessing that feels like a curse sometimes!
Swedes often don’t know a lot about Finland and many have never been there, but the reverse is almost never true. Finland was once Swedish (for 700 years), so their history is permanently intertwined with Sweden and most I’ve met have been at least once, especially if they are Swedish speaking.
After all of this time here, I’m proud to be married to a Finn. I’m thrilled to be living in Stockholm with so much happening all the time, with beauty around every corner, with a language I’ve been trying to learn for so long. The people are surprisingly warm and it feels alive. The employment possibilities are significantly greater and people are more open to Cora’s acupuncture and naturopathy. I love so many things about it and am hoping it will feel like home at some point in the not too distant future. But there is always part of us that will be at home in Finland, and there are some amazing things about being Finnish. Finnish foods are more varied and have more complex flavors. Their fashion is outlandish at times! Swedes are fashionable, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more toned down and usually more uniform. Honestly, I don’t know that I could pull off what some middle-aged Finnish ladies wear, but I love that they do it!! Finns are hardworking, they keep things ordered and are sensible. Helsinki is smaller; it is also inviting with its older buildings, higher density, and European charm, but it’s cozier than Stockholm. There is a cohesiveness to Helsinki that Stockholm is just too big to have. It also makes for less going on in Helsinki, so there are trade-ups. It’s a beautiful place. I’m proud to get to be a part of it.