Christmas Eve is the big day in Finland, not just the warm up the way it is in the United States. Almost everything is closed, and the few things that are open shut down by noon. That’s when the Christmas Peace is declared in Turku, the old capital city, as it has every December 24th going all the way back to the 13th century. They televise the declaration, which is traditionally given by the mayor. The peace basically means that everyone is expected to play nice and get along, but it’s also an admonition against loud behavior, wild parties, and other noisy activities. It’s Christmas. Settle down and relax.
By the afternoon, it’s quiet. I’m talking zombie movie, where has everyone gone, quiet. Some people are on the roads traveling, but most either got all of their driving done the night before or in the morning, and are settled in at their destination by the time the Peace has been declared. The afternoon is when everyone’s getting ready for the evening feast.
Because on Christmas Eve, most people in the Nordic countries hang out with extended families, eat the big meal, and exchange presents. It’s the day to take the kids to visit grandma and grandpa, and aunts and uncles and cousins. Then the kids play with their new toys, the adults get into the alcohol, and almost everyone ends up in the sauna.
This year we’ll be spending Christmas Eve with some Swedish friends, having what we’re told will be a reasonably traditional Swedish Yule. There will be traditional food in courses, alcohol, and good conversation. Because we’ll probably be out late, Katie and I will walk home. I have no idea what time the buses stop running, or if they’re running at all. It’s no big deal, because we’re used to walking everywhere.
Katie and I aren’t exchanging any presents this year. We both have the things we need, and there wasn’t anything that we really wanted for the apartment. It’s a very minimalist Christmas. We decided we wanted to hang out with friends, hang out with each other, do some tourist stuff, and go out to eat a couple of times rather than acquire things for the sake of the present-exchange tradition. Neither of us feels like we’re missing out on anything. Because after all, it’s still Christmas Eve, and we’re together.