Christmas Cemetery Visits in Finland

Christmas is a time when people may make an extra effort to visit the graves of loved ones. There is probably no place more so than Finland, where Christmas cemetery visits take on huge significance.

It is  tradition in Finland that everybody tries to get home for Christmas, sometimes as early as 21st December. Christmas Eve takes on far more importance than in many other countries, with families eating a breakfast of porridge and plum juice together. They then purchase and decorate the tree, before visiting cemeteries to pay their respects at the graves of family members.

Such is the popularity of visiting cemeteries in Finland that the police can often be seen controlling the traffic. It has been estimated that as many as 75% of Finnish people from various denominations visit graves. A particularly popular time to visit is at 3pm shortly before it goes dark. Families light the cemeteries up by leaving candles in hanging lanterns by the grave, leading to a stunning display of light as they glow against the snow and ice.

Picture by Pollo

Although the cemeteries and churchyards are crowded, it is an eerily quiet scene as people remember their lost relatives. There are even people who do not have relatives buried there who go to stroll among the serene landscape. The tradition of visiting graves at this time of year goes back many centuries, but the widespread use of candles only began in the 1920s when they became affordable.

Once the grave visits are over, families usually return to their homes although it is also traditional to take a sauna. The main meal, consisting of pork and vegetables is then consumed in the early evening and afterwards the arrival of Santa Claus is awaited. After the presents have been delivered, they are opened shortly before midnight. Christmas Day is then much quieter, a day of relaxation with Boxing Day then being used for family visits.