Finland Culture - feature

A Snapshot of Finnish Culture

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

One week is hardly enough time to spend getting to know an entire country. It’s a teaser really, hopefully enough time to just quickly sample most of what a country has to offer.

And when we weren’t being coaxed into ice pools, crashing through thin layers of ice to float down rivers, or recovering in the sauna afterwards, we were eagerly soaking up every other little bit of the culture we could get. This included tasting a beloved character from our childhood, learning a new instrument, and shooting back a bit of vodka.

Rudolph, you sure are tasty

This was a tough one. I may not be the most adventurous eater (that’s Pete’s job), and my only previous exposure to reindeer had been of the cute cartoon variety with a bright red nose. But I did it. I tasted Rudolph in a very small quantity, and he was delicious. (Next time, I’m going for the full steak.)

Finland Culture - Reindeer

Bread it up

Bread, bread, and more bread. And not your standard white fluffy fare either, but dark rye bread abounds at every meal, and even used as the base of some delicious treats. While I’m not the biggest fan of rye bread on it’s own, when it’s in the form of Teos – thin rye bread topped with different things like reindeer meat, carrots, etc. – then I’m all over it. (Incidentally, teos means “work of art”, and trust me when I say that it is.)

Finland Culture - bread

Even their most popular desert, laskiaispulla, is not a flaky pastry as it might look, but a standard sweet roll with jam and whipped cream in the middle.

Finland Culture - Laskiaispulla

The literal roots of Finnish culture

A collection of 50 poems from various poets make up the Kalevala, a 1835 book that is acknowledged as being the basis of Finnish national identity. The long, epic lyrical poems are strung together to form a narrative, and are believed it to be based on past historical events, even though much of it is mythical. While never meant to be a piece of literature (the poems are meant to be sung and are believed to have been passed down the generations for thousands of years), it now has been translated into 63 languages.

Finland Culture - Kalevala

Rune singing is still an important custom for passing down the poems. Here is Pete learning to play the Kantele, a traditional instrument used to accompany the singing.

Finland Culture - Cantele

A man with a dream

At the young age of 21, Seppo Kimanen was a cellist with a big reputation and a big dream. He had his ambitious sights set on creating an international chamber music, in the tiny town of Kuhmo (current population is under 10,000) in eastern Finland. People thought he was crazy.

He continued to pursue it anyways. Since the first one in 1970, it has grown to become one of the most renowned in the world, and is held every July. In 1993 the imprresive chamber music hall was built, not only does it stand as a pillar for Finnish musical society, but it also brings a number of important events to the area.

And, it’s stunningly beautiful.

Finland Culture - Kuhmo Centre for Arts

It’s cold! Suck it up and enjoy it!

As Canadians we can perhaps appreciate this a bit better than some others, although Pete and I can truthfully say we’ve never met any culture (even our own) that embraces it so heartily. Daily transport is not confined to vehicles with automatic starters and block heaters for pre-warming, but is routinely undertaken with kick-sleds and cross-country skis. While in Canada we may brave the chilly waters for a “polar bear dip” and usually only for charity, the Finns do it as a health initiative. And in all our research, we’ve found no other place that encourages floating down rivers in the dead of winter.

Finland Culture - Cross Country Skiing

Heal all that ails you

If routine exposure to cold water isn’t enough to toughen you up against routine ailments, then another cure-all is available and encouraged. Sweat it out with a sauna, shoot it down with a shot of vodka that is flavoured with tar. According to a popular Finnish proverb: “If vodka, tar and sauna don’t help, the disease leads to death”. (Wood tar is apparently used in traditional Finnish medicine.)

Finland Culture - Skiing and Vodka
Shots by the ski-full!

We didn’t quite escape Finland unscathed, a few bruises and a whopper of a cold followed us to Berlin. But we were light on the vodka shots and didn’t have any tar at all!

Next time. There WILL be a next time.


Our trip to Finland was courtesy of Visit Finland and Wild Taiga. As always, all opinions are our own.


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  1. I loved following your trip in Finland. It was never high on the lis but after seeing your photos and reading your posts its moved up many notches!

    Thanks for sharing guys.. I enjoyed coming along for the ride!

  2. Sounds like the country left its mark on you! Also, those laskiaispulla look like scones to me. Nom nom nom.

  3. Nice post on visiting Finlandou are right there are many types of bread-The black Rye bread is great with lots of butter and warm salmon soup

    Maybe you would not have gotten the flu if you had been drinking the excellent Finlandia Vodka
    Finnish men swear by it and I do not get flu drinking Kossu or Vodka

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