Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 6: Finland Joulupukki

It’s Day 6 of our Advent Calendar and today Finland celebrates its 100th Independence Day. That is why today we are heading up North to meet the Finnish Father Christmas, or Joulupukki as the locals call him. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!

 

FINLAND JOULUPUKKI

Joulupukki, literally translated “Christmas goat” is the Finnish Father Christmas. Though he resembles your average Santa Claus, he first of all, does not live on the North Pole, nor did he originally have anything to do with the good old Saint Nicholas. Joulupukki stems from old pagan tradition of the Yule Goat, and was originally a much scarier figure, often wearing a goat mask. Joulupukki was also dressed in red clothes long before Santa Claus donned the festive colour. In fact, it was a son of Finnish emigrants that gave the American Coca-Cola Santa Claus his red attire.

Joulupukki lives up in the Finnish Lapland with his wife, the Joulumuori and his ever-helpful workers, the tonttus. Every year he travels throughout the world in his sleigh pulled by reindeer, and though magical, his reindeer traditionally don’t fly. Joulupukki leaves for his annual trip on the 23rd of December at 6 pm and his departure is broadcasted on the national television in Finland. Finnish children also receive their presents on the evening of the 24th of December, because that is when Joulupukki makes his rounds in Finland before heading out of the country.

If you visit Finland, you can visit Joulupukki’s workshop right above the arctic circle at Rovaniemi.

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Finland Marco Polo Guide

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Eat like a local – Finland

Nature throws open her larder door: Finnish cooking brings the produce of the forests and the lakes to the table. Nordic cuisine – Finnish cuisine included – is taking the world by storm. Fish, berries and meat in hearty stews and casseroles, it is comfort food Finnish style. Check out Marco Polo’s tips for the real Finnish culinary experience!

Snowy Finland

Picture credit: Senja Yrjölä, used with permission

Traditional Cuisine

Traditional Finnish cooking is nutritional and plain, intended to make sure that a hard-working population gets through the long, cold winter. Depending on the time of year, restaurants serve the typical Nordic range of home-grown food prepared to tried and tested recipes. ‘Food fills you up’, so many a Finn says – and a lot of dishes taste like that, too.

The national cuisine has not always had the reputation of being star quality. But, if you keep to traditional dishes and regional ingredients, you will experience some praiseworthy culinary delights. On top of that, a lot of food is organic even if it does not come with a green stamp of approval – especially in the far north. Fruit and vegetables grow a long way from any industrial centres or towns and are pollution free. And, obviously, the meat of wild animals comes from those roaming free in their natural habitat.

Due to the climate, the selection of native fruit and vegetables is limited, one could even say paltry. But the Finns are proud of what Nature has in store for them and of what they make with it, and for a good reason. The Nordic cuisine has been right at the top of the food trend lists for a few years now. Traditional ingredients like beetroot, swedes and white cabbage are n being ingeniously transformed into gourmet experiences. However, hotpots, soups, casseroles, roasts and pies, such as the world-famous Karelian pies, still dominate everyday cooking.

International Cuisine

International cuisine is very popular in Finland, especially in the larger cities. The standard repertoire in the restaurant scene comprises Finnish, Scandinavian and Russian restaurants, but these are now being joined by pizzerias, Asian restaurants and the fast-food chain Hesburger – a Finnish product. Vegetarian restaurants are also popping up in many cities.

Fish Dishes

If you like fish, you’ll enjoy going out for a meal. In a country with 200,000 lakes there are lots of excellent edible fish and a lot more off the coast as well. A particular speciality can be sampled in January in the Kainuu region: eelpout soup. The animals’ roe is served as caviar on blinis with sour cream. Ice fishing for pike, perch and bream starts as early as in March. Small whitefish that are commonly found in the lake district are grilled whole – a typically Nordic speciality.

On the coast you can savour wild salmon from the major rivers. The beginning of the crayfish season on 21 July is a culinary highlight which, due to the diminishing number of crustaceans, is becoming an increasingly expensive treat.

Cloudberry Finland

Picture credit: Senja Yrjölä, used with permission

Fruit

The summer is short and it is only after midsummer that the market stands start to fill up. Delicious strawberries, bilberries and raspberries – Finland is rich in such fruit – are longingly awaited. The yellow cloudberry, lakka, from the moors of Lapland, is a rare speciality. It is served as a dessert with junket and distilled to make a liqueur. If you want to know what a cloudberry looks like, keep your eyes open for a two-euro coin on which Lapland’s emblem is shown.

Game

Autumn is the best time to enjoy game. Traditional Finnish restaurants serve elk, reindeer and wild duck; Russian restaurants also have bear on the menu. Game can also be taken home in the form of salami or ham. This can be bought in the markets in Helsinki, for example.

Korvapuusti Finland

Picture credit: Senja Yrjölä, used with permission

Sweet Things

What you will find to buy in abundance in Finland are sweet things. Chocolate (preferably from Fazer) keeps the northerners happy during the long winter months. The same goes for ice cream. No, this is not a misprint – Finns love their ice cream despite arctic temperatures. Berry cake and pulla, a dessert bread with crushed cardamom seeds, are also very popular. One dessert that you can expect to find in the most remote corner of any national park is munkki. This is a yeast-based bread sprinkled with sugar that is not dissimilar to a doughnut.

Coffee

Kahvi ja munkki: you will see this sign outside every café and also many a restaurant, inviting you in for a snack. Kahvi means coffee – the Finnish national drink that is consumed in huge quantities. Finland heads the EU statistics for coffee consumption and, at almost 12 kilos per capita, is far ahead of anywhere else. By comparison, the Americans drink on average 4.2 kilos and the British a mere 2.8 kilos.

Alcohol

Lots of alcohol is also consumed but is still very expensive, especially in restaurants. An ‘A’ licence denote that all alcohol drinks can be served; a ‘B’ licence covers wine and beer; a ‘C’ licence just low-alcohol beer. High-proof beverages and wines are only available in branches of the Alko concern.

 

Buy the Finland Marco Polo Guide.

Finland Marco Polo Guide

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