Christmas in Helsinki

Joulu Helsingissä.
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Christmas in Helsinki is so much more than jingles and bells. The dark time of the year and cold temperatures offer the chance to discover the calm and peaceful side of Helsinki. Compared to all the glittering Christmas cities around the world, the Finnish capital is like an urban retreat that energises and soothes you with its hot saunas, beautiful nature, and both new and old traditions.

The dark winters in Finland have been lit up by candles for centuries. Christmas lights on facades and in gardens in the American style began to appear in the 1990s, bringing extra light to the traditional Finnish Christmas. In recent years, another new tradition has begun in Helsinki with local residents decorating entire apartment buildings with carefully planned Christmas lights in their windows. Keep your eyes open for the giant advent calendars.

The most impressive Christmas lights can be found along the Esplanade, Aleksanterinkatu and all the little streets connecting them; Mikonkatu, Kluuvikatu, Sofiankatu and Katariinankatu in particular are always nicely decorated.

Opening of Aleksanterinkatu at Christmas, where large crowds gather in the street to see the Christmas lights as an old tram is passing by.
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Opening of Christmas Street

The Christmas season in Helsinki begins already at the end of November, when the Christmas lights along the Aleksanterinkatu shopping street are turned on. Aleksi, as locals refer to it, has been adorned by Christmas lights since 1949, and the opening event continues to delight locals and visitors alike. The day culminates with a visit by Santa Claus from Finnish Lapland and the turning on of the lights by the Mayor of Helsinki. A Christmas parade then makes its way through the city centre, watched by thousands along the sides of the streets. Get there early if you want to catch a glimpse of Santa Clause and his army of elves.

 

With Helsinki Cathedral in the background, Christmas Market stalls surround a merry-go-round situated in the center of Senate Square, which is brightly lit and surrounded by people.
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Christmas markets

The best place to do your Christmas shopping is at any of the Christmas markets and bazaars throughout Helsinki. Christmas markets begin to appear already in November and continue all the way up to Christmas Eve. Classic Finnish Christmas gifts include handmade woollen socks and hats, seasonal jams and sweets, and of course toys for the kids.

The Helsinki Christmas Market (“Tuomaan Markkinat”) is the perfect place to stop and enjoy the atmosphere. The food yard presents some of the city’s leading restaurateurs, seasonal treats and an interesting programme of events. You can enjoy all the great food around cosy urban bonfires. There is also an old-fashion carousel that kids can ride for free, you can warm up with a steaming cup of mulled wine, and you can whisper all your Christmas wishes in Santa’s ear. The Torikorttelit district between Senate Square and the Market Square is also packed with great places to shop and dine.

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Enjoy Christmas with all your senses in Helsinki! The season is filled with the scent of mulled wine, spiced coffees, homemade gingerbread cookies and fir branches.
Women enjoying at the Uusi Sauna in Jätkäsaari
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Christmas saunas

The Christmas sauna is an age-old tradition in Finland that relaxes you after all the hustle and bustle and cleans you up before the Christmas Eve celebrations begin. There are many folk beliefs connected with the sauna, such as appeasing the sauna elves by leaving them a bucket of water, a birch whisk and a glass of beer. These days Christmas saunas are enjoyed not only on Christmas Eve among family but also during the pre-Christmas season with friends.

Public saunas can be found throughout Helsinki. Kotiharju Sauna in the Kallio district lets you enjoy a real retro atmosphere. Remember to take your own snacks with you so you can enjoy a sandwich and beer afterwards. You can enjoy a genuinely Finnish sauna experience at the Löyly design sauna, the Kulttuurisauna culture sauna and the Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall, where you can even go skinny dipping! The Uusi Sauna in Jätkäsaari updates the traditional block sauna for the 21st century. It is a combination of a public sauna and a restaurant where you can enjoy the atmosphere even without a sauna.

Followed by her procession, the recently crowned Lucia descends the Helsinki Cathedral steps to the Senate Square, carrying a sheaf of wheat.
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Independence Day 

Finland celebrates Independence Day on 6 December with numerous special events and concerts throughout the city, including a torchlight parade by students and the Independence Day Ball at the Presidential Palace. Traditionally, Finns gather around the TV to watch the Finnish President and his spouse shake hands with all the dignitaries and honorary guests. The live broadcast is in fact one of the most viewed programmes of the year!

Lucia Parade

Lucia Day is observed on 13 December, when the Lucia Maiden brings light to the darkness with her candles. Each year, a new Lucia Maiden is crowned at Helsinki Cathedral. The best way to experience the atmosphere is to watch the parade afterwards, when you can see the new Lucia Maiden, as well as Christmas elves, horses and vintage cars!

 

A small group of adults and children gather to view wreaths placed on the outside of a traditional log outbuilding on Seurasaari's Christmas path.
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Christmas paths and concerts

The Seurasaari Christmas Path is a free-of-charge family event that lets you experience old Finnish Christmas traditions and the message of Christmas. Each year, the Christmas Path attracts around 15,000 children and adults to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere on the recreational island of Seurasaari. Seurasaari Christmas Path will be held virtually in 2021. Christmas paths are also organised at Suomenlinna and in Vuosaari.

Helsinki’s churches and concert halls host carol services and concerts during the Christmas season. The Most Beautiful Christmas Carols (Kauneimmat joululaulut) is a series of concerts held in churches throughout the city. The Heavy Christmas (Raskasta Joulua) tour in turn presents top Finnish and international rock stars with a visually impressive show. Performances by Star Singers (Tiernapojat) can be enjoyed always anywhere, including at Suomenlinna.

Christmas window displays at Stockmann’s

The Christmas window displays at Stockmann’s department store in the city centre delight passersby with all their details. The skilfully designed and crafted window displays impress adults and kids alike. There is a different theme each year reflecting the excitement of waiting for Christmas to arrive and the joy of giving and receiving gifts. The most impressive windows can be found on the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Mikonkatu.

Christmas treats

Traditional Finnish Christmas treats, from cured ham and casseroles to herrings and rosolli salads, are served by many restaurants starting already at the end of November. Delicious Christmas menus are introduced already in the autumn, offering both the traditional classics and more modern interpretations according to the latest trends.

Christmas mornings in Finland traditionally begin with Christmas porridge. The carefully prepared rice porridge is still the classic Christmas breakfast, but you can enjoy it all year round at the Coffee Sisters (Kahvisiskot) tent in Hakaniemi Market. Delicious Finnish porridges are also served at many local cafés.

Two seperate images are side by side. On the left are 2 gingerbread men either side of a large gingerbread heart that says "Merry Christmas". On the right is a close up of two glasses of glögi a teapot, bowls of sweets and candles resting on a table.
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Christmas peace

The hustle and bustle of the Finnish capital disappears at Christmas. Christmas Eve is a peaceful celebration that is usually spent among family. The traditional Finnish Christmas programme includes a sauna and a huge meal, as well as lots of games and music. The evening culminates with a visit by Santa Claus and the sharing of gifts. Many families also attend church services and visit cemeteries on Christmas Eve. In recent years, the total silence that once enveloped the city has begun to open up, and these days you will see more and more people getting out and about. Although most shops are closed for Christmas, a number of services remain open throughout the season.

The precise times and dates of Christmas events will be published throughout the autumn >> Event calendar 

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Experience Helsinki saunas

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What would be more wonderful than laying on a sauna bench, enjoying the hot steams and listening to sounds of the burning wood in the stove.

 

Saunas are a big part of Finnish culture as well as a big part of having a relaxing fun time. Helsinki offers a wide range of public saunas that easily rise to the occasion and serve as the highlight of your evening. Public saunas in Helsinki also offer a very nice way to unwind. If city life at any point feels overwhelming, saunas in Helsinki are a stone's throw away. 

Many great new public saunas have opened in Helsinki in recent years, in addition to which there are numerous traditional saunas to choose from. It’s not easy to rank all these saunas, as each one has its own special character. There are an array of saunas in Helsinki that offer a range of experiences, you have the opportunity to soak in the Helsinki archipelago or enjoy the luxuries a spa has to offer right at the heart of the city.

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Compared to all the glittering Christmas cities around the world, the Finnish capital is like an urban retreat that energises and soothes you with its hot saunas, beautiful nature, and both new and old traditions.