Finnish for busy people

Itsenäisyyspäivä 6.12. – Finnish Independence Day

On the 6th of December, Independence Day (itsenäisyyspäivä) is celebrated in Finland. Finland became independent (itsenäinen) from Russia in 1917. The 6th of December is a national holiday (yleinen vapaapäivä) and a flag flying day (liputuspäivä). There are many traditions (perinne) that take place on this day.

This article gives you some basic information as well as important vocabulary related to the topic.

Finnish English
itsenäisyyspäivä independence day
itsenäisyys independence
itsenäinen independent
juhlapäivä holiday
pyhäpäivä celebration day
vapaapäivä day off
liputuspäivä flag flying day

1. Independence Day History

I’m not diving too far into the history of Finland’s independence, but here’s a little bit of background information.

Finnish English
suuriruhtinaskunta Grand Duchy
autonominen alue autonomous area
sisäpolitiikka domestic policy
ulkopolitiikka foreign policy
keisari emperor
tsaari tzar
vallankumous revolution
Bolševikit Bolsheviks
itsenäisyysjulistus declaration of independence
itsenäistyä to become independent
eduskunta parliament
valtio state, country
äänestys voting

Finland was a Grand Duchy (suuriruhtinaskunta) of Russia for a total of 108 years: from 1809 until 1917. As an autonomous area (autonominen alue), Finland had the power to decide on internal politics (sisäpolitiikka), but needed the final approval of the emperor of Russia (Venäjän keisari). It’s unusual for a country to give part of it so much power. In Finland’s case, Russia believed that giving Finland autonomy would result in a more stable relationship between the areas of Finland and Russia. Finns were more likely to look positively on Russia with this decision. There were other political reasons related to Napoleon and Sweden which I won’t get into here. Read more in Finnish here (I encourage you to explore that page further as well, it has some excellent information about Finland’s history).

However, the year 1917 was a stormy one, both in Finland and in Russia. The winter had been cold and food had been scarce. In Russia, tzar Nicholas II (tsaari Nikolai II) was ousted in March of 1917. The confusion in Russia during and after the revolution (vallankumous) made Finns decide that it was time to become independent (itsenäistyä) from Russia.

Rather than declaring their independence right away, the Finnish parliament (eduskunta) first created a law (valtalaki) that gave the parliament (eduskunta) supreme political power over everything happening inside Finland. They would no longer need the approval of Russia for internal politics (sisäpolitiikka). However, Russia would have stayed in control of Defence (puolustus) and Foreign Policy (ulkopolitiikka).

In a turn of events, when the Bolsheviks (Bolševikit) took control of the Russian government, Finns were afraid that it might lose its status as an autonomous area. Thus, a new law was created which didn’t mention Russia at all: the declaration of independence (itsenäisyysjulistus). This declaration was approved on the 6th of December.

This didn’t mean that everything was suddenly perfect in Finland: multiple wars were fought after independence. The Finnish civil war (sisällissota) took place in 1918, right after independence. Then, there were the Winter War (talvisota), World War II (toinen maailmansota), the Continuation War (jatkosota). and the Lapland War (Lapin sota).

2. Independence Day Celebrations

Finnish English
presidentinlinna Presidential Palace
suora lähetys live broadcast
paraati parade
soihtukulkue torchlight procession
tuomiokirkko cathedral
jumalanpalvelus church service
puhe speech
kunniamerkki badge of honor
ylennys promotion
puolustusvoimat defense forces
sankarihauta war hero grave
seppele wreath
sinivalkoinen kynttilä blue and white candle

On the 6th of December the president (presidentti) of Finland delivers a speech (pitää puhe). The president also awards badges of honor (kunniamerkki) and promotions (ylennys) to people in the Defense Forces (puolustusvoimat). There’s a special religious service (jumalanpalvelus) in Helsinki Cathedral (tuomiokirkko). There are usually also several types of parades (paraati). The Defense forces have a parade and so do students in Helsinki, who take part in a torchlight procession (soihtukulkue).

Flowers, candles and wreaths are taken to the graves of war heroes (sankarihauta) of the wars that were fought in Finland.

In Finnish homes, there are also several traditions. It’s common for Finnish families to light two white and blue candles (sinivalkoinen kynttilä) in their window. On TV, you will see the same movie every year on the 6th of December: Tuntematon sotilas (ie. The Unknown Soldier). This movie is based on Väinö Linna‘s book which tells the story of soldiers during the Continuation War (1941-1944). In addition, another very popular tradition is to watch the presidential reception on TV.

3. Linnanjuhlat – Presidential Reception

Finnish English
linnanjuhlat “Castle Celebrations”
presidentinlinna Presidential Palace
juhlavastaanotto banquet reception
suora lähetys live broadcast
kunniavieras guests of honor
sotaveteraani war veteran
Lotta Svärd, “lotat” Lotta Svärd, “lottas”
Mannerheim-risti Mannerheim Cross

People also watch Linnanjuhlat on TV during live broadcast (suora lähetys). This event (“the Castle Celebrations”) takes place in the Presidential Palace (presidentinlinna). About 2000 guests of honor (kunniavieras) are invited. Among them are war veterans (sotaveteraani) and female heroes who belonged to Lotta Svärd. These women are usually called “lotat”. In addition, the president will invite people who have achieved something important during that year in politics, science or sports, as well as some celebrities.

The first part of this event takes a long time: each of the guests shakes hands with both the president and their partner. Finns at home will look at this, mostly paying attention to what kind of outfits people have chosen for the event, and looking out for any faux pas made, such as women curtsying rather than shaking hands, or saying “hello” rather than their own name. After that, there’s dancing and socializing.

It’s very popular to watch at least part of the Linnanjuhlat on TV. All the juicy details will be in the newspapers on the next day for those who missed it. Unfortunately, this event has been cancelled in 2021 due to COVID-19.

4. Some simple sentences

Finnish English
Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää! Happy Independence Day!
Laitan sinivalkoiset kynttilät ikkunalaudalle. I put blue and white candles on the windowsill.
Suomesta tuli itsenäinen vuonna 1917. Finland became independent in 1917.
Suomi itsenäistyi vuonna 1917. Finland became independent in 1917.
Suomi vapautui Venäjän hallinnosta. Finland was liberated from Russian rule.
Ennen kuin Suomi itsenäistyi, se oli osa Venäjää. Before Finland became independent, it was part of Russia.
Suomi oli Venäjän suuriruhtinaskunta vuodesta 1809. Finland was the Grand Duchy of Russia from 1809.
Itsenäisyyspäivänä katsotaan yleensä linnanjuhlia. On Independence Day people usually watch linnanjuhlat.
Kuunnellaan presidentin itsenäisyyspäivän puhe! Let’s listen to the president’s Independence Day speech!
Katsoitko eilen linnanjuhlia? Did you watch the presidential reception yesterday?
Linnanjuhlat peruttiin vuonna 2021. The presidential reception was cancelled in 2021.
Minun kotimaani itsenäistyi vuonna… My home country became independent in the year…
Monet pienet kaupat ovat kiinni itsenäisyyspäivänä. Many small shops are closed on Independence Day.
Ei hätää, monet ruokakaupat ovat auki! No worries, many food shops are open!

Read more elsewhere on the internet:

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There is a wrong date of the beginning of the Continuation War: 1914 instead of 1941

Inge (admin)

Yes! It only lasted 3 year, not 30. Thanks! 🙂