It’s Christmas time, my favourite time of the year. And this year it seems that everybody in Finland are going to have a white Christmas. Let’s hope that the forecast keeps its promises.
Although the headline of this post may seem to be dark, the post is not ment to be sad. We all have ancestors and quite many of us also close ones, who are not anymore with us. In Finland we have a great tradition to remember those people at Christmas time. We visit the graves and light a candle on the grave. If we cannot visit the actual grave, we also have places in our cemeteries dedicated to the ones buried somewhere else (muualle haudattujen muistopaikka).
I think most of the Finns visit the cemetery on Christmas Eve, but my family usually visits the graves on 23rd of December. As my ancestors come from the western parts of Finland and I’m nowadays living in the southern parts of Finland, we usually take the candle to the place in the cemetery dedicated to the ones buried elsewhere. I visit the relatives graves earlier in the December.
Imagine a dark evening, with minus grades (like - 5 C), some snow on the ground (at least 10 cm), a quiet cemetery (with lots of people, but we Finns do not talk in the cemetery, we whisper or stay quiet) and candle or candles on almost every grave. The scenery is just magical. And it is definitely one of the things starting my Christmas.
When we look back in time, visiting graves and lighting a candle there is not so old tradition in Finland. It dates back to 1920s. One has to remember that Finland got its independency in 1917 and we had our civil war in 1918. So those might have influenced quite much on the tradition. To a nation wide tradition it became after the World War II.
The young nation, not even a year old, got into a civil war and it was then decided that the deceased would be sent to the home parish to be buried, maybe because some of them were Jägers who had not been home for years and of whom the family did not know that they were actually Jägers. The Finns continued this tradition also during Winter, Continuation and Lapland War and in every parish there is a soldier’s graves for those who have given their lives for Finland. I think after the wars remembering those, who gave their lives for the nation to stay independent, and lightning a candle on their graves was important for Finns. We have to remember that there were 3,7 million citizen in Finland in 1939 and we lost about 97 000 citizens during the WWII of which about 95 000 were soldiers. That was 2,6 % of our population.
So quite recent but a beautiful tradition.
I wish you all a Peaceful Christmas!