Celebrating Christmas the Finnish style

Dec 14, 2014  · by

Two snowmen

Topics: Festivals

One year back there was an interesting discussion in the Argonaut Cultural Correspondents’ LinkedIn group about the meaning of Christmas in different working cultures. When and where is it not OK to say “happy Christmas”? Who buys presents for whom and what kind? How is normal working affected? What kinds of work Christmas parties are organized and what happens there? How much time off do people take around the turn of the year?
There is an abundance of viewpoints to this topic (and of course all other festivities around the year!). Since I wasn’t yet working with Argonaut at the time of this conversation, I would like to make my own contribution to this current topic – we are in the middle of the end-of-the-year festivities after all! Being born and raised in Finland I would be lying if I said I knew any other culture’s holiday habits better than the Finnish ones… Here is a sneak peak to the festivities in Finnish style!

Christmas wishes

Most Finns are Christians by religion, and the Christian holidays stick tight in our calendars. I wouldn’t say we are the most religious people there are but we are keen on traditions. That is why it still is very common to wish merry Christmas to friends, family and colleagues. In multicultural (work) groups where there are members who are not familiar with the Finnish culture it is good to say something more general like season’s greetings.


Finns appreciate gifts and presents, and the norm is you buy or make something for your closest friends and family. Shops and markets are full of suitable items during November-December but remember to consider the receiver and don’t buy junk. Chocolate is always a safe option with Finns. Also companies remember their employees with a little something that brightens up the mood and increases motivation (chocolate). Business partners tend to send something funny and witty to each other to say thank you for cooperation the past year.

Christmas parties

One of the most essential tradition in a Finnish workplace’s social year clock is the Christmas party, or the “little Christmas”, pikkujoulut, as we call it in Finnish. The little Christmas party is an event where almost every employee attends, and it is usually because of the fun activities and free food and drinks. The parties are the companies’ way to thank the employees for the efforts they have made during the year, and also to provide a relaxed social gathering where people can easily catch-up on how everyone is doing. Usually the parties are organized inside the company’s premises or, if there is no room for that, in some restaurant or other venue. Sometimes the parties end up being quite wild: confessions are made, angry feedback given or hidden emotions (good and bad) revealed to everyone. Nevertheless the little Christmas parties are something we look forward to, and honestly it really is a nice way to get to know the people you work with.

Work and holiday

Before the holidays it’s hectic! It is like the world is coming to an end every Christmas/New year. All the projects need to be finished, each paper written, desks organized. This is because, in general, in Finnish culture, we value our free time so much that we only want to concentrate on that, and not work, during our time off. Usually the 23rd is not a working day anymore in offices (shops are open but on 24th only until around noon), and after the 25th the Finns may not return to work until January 2nd even. The odd days between Christmas and new years are considered working days but ideally Finns would like to be on holiday then as well. New Year’s Day is naturally a public holiday, and depending on the year there will be little more days off (Christmas and New Year during weekdays) or little less days off (Christmas and New Year during weekends) in a row. Traditionally Christmas is the time we spend with families, take it easy and relax. While eating chocolate.

What are the most essential (Christmas) holiday traditions in your culture? Do you like Christmas or does it only remind you of all the fuss and Western consumption culture? Which one is more natural to you during Christmas: snow, and cosy darkness lighted up with many candles or beach, hot weather and barbeque? Feel free to comment below!

Season’s Greetings from Argonaut!
Best wishes from Hilla

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