Independence Day: December 6
Independence Day is a public holiday in Finland.
“Itsenäisyyspäivä” is Finnish for Independence Day; it is a national public holiday in Finland celebrated on December 6. On this day the Finnish celebrate their declaration of independence from the Russian Empire in 1917, following political and social disturbances in Russia due to the defeat in World War I.
History of Independence Day
The armies of Alexander I of Russia took over Finland in 1809 during the Finnish War. Finland became the Gran Duchy of Finland in the Russian Empire. During the 1860´s a strong nationalist movement, the Fennoman movement, grew all over Finland, and their motto
was: “Swedes we are no longer, Russians we can never become, so let us be Finns!” The Finnish language gained recognition and achieved equal status with Swedish in 1892. From 1866 to 1868, Finland went through a great famine that killed 15 percent of the population. This led the Russian Empire to ease regulations causing an increase in local investment, leading to quick economic and political development. Universal suffrage was adopted in 1906, but it was meaningless since the Russian Emperor did not have to adopt any of the laws from the Finnish parliament.
The relationships between the Gran Duchy and the Russian Empire became sour as the Russians restricted the autonomy of the Finnish people. Desire for independence grew among the Finnish, and after the February Revolution in Russia on 1917, the dependence of Finland on the Russian Empire was severely questioned since they did not know who was ruling Finland. After the Russian October Revolution in 1917, problems again resurfaced to whom was in control of Finland. As different parties stood their ground with their own vision of independence from the Russians, a civil war ensued. This time, the Russians gave full power of self determination to the people of Russia. On December 6, the Finnish Parliament adopted its Declaration of Independence.
Independence Day Traditions, Customs and Activities
Independence Day celebrations are carried out by shops with decorations of white and blue including delicious white and blue pastries sold in bakeries. By tradition, Finnish families light two candles in the windows of their homes. According to popular legend, the candles were lit as a sign of shelter for young soldiers on their way to war, helping to keep them safe from the Russians. Official festivities include the raising of the flag on Observatory Hill in Helsinki, a religious service in the Helsinki Cathedral, and visits to World War II memorials. The Presidential Palace has a gala reception in the evening, which is known as “Linnan Juhlat”—the Party at the Castle—in English, which is broadcast by television. The event is also an opportunity for demonstrations in support of various social and political causes.