Sunday, 15 May 2016

Finland - Land of the Midnight Sun

Cabin in the Woods

If you look at Finland on a map, you will notice that it is the easternmost of the three ‘Scandinavian’ countries, which look a bit like three fingers pointing downwards. The shape of Finland is generally thought to be that of a woman pointing, although I can’t help but see it as a seated bunny rabbit with lopsided ears. I should probably say at the outset that although geographically Finland is part of what most people would think of as Scandinavian, they aren’t in fact usually considered part of Scandinavia. Scandinavia is a historic and cultural term binding together Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Finland, along with the proper Scandinavian countries, is a Nordic state. The far north of Finland is inside the arctic circle, and this area is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, because in the summer months it is summer for all of the day and night, even at midnight. Conversely in winter, it is dark all the time. At Lake Inari for instance, the sun never sets between May 23rd and July 19th. Between December 4th and January 8th, the sun never rises. It’s also rather cold, with average lows in January of 19 degrees below freezing, and between November and early June it is completely frozen over.

Before we more into what Finland is like, here’s a few facts.

  1. Finland is actually the Swedish name for the country. Finns themselves call their country Suomi.
  2. Finland is the biggest drinker of coffee per person than any other country, each consuming on average 2.7 cups a day.
  3. Finns are generally considered to have one of the best educational systems in the world
  4. Finland has the most islands and the most lakes of any country in the world – approximately 180,000 of each.
  5. Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, with only 16 people per km2

Finland has throughout its history been dominated by its two powerful neighbours – Sweden to the west and Russia to the east, and until it achieved independence in 1918 it was ruled by one or the other of them. During World War II, it was invaded by both Germany and Russia, and struggled to maintain its independence. During the Cold War, Finland managed to maintain its neutrality and sided neither with the Soviet Union nor NATO allies. As such, it was an important buffer between East and West, however it had to be very careful not to antagonise the Russians. After the end of the Cold War, it wholeheartedly threw in its lot with the European Union, joining in 1994 and then joining the Euro in 1999.

It is difficult to get across just how sparsely populated Finland is. It is two and a half times the size of England, but has just a tenth of the population. What’s more, the majority of the population live in the southern half of the country in the area around the capital Helsinki, making the north even more empty. What Finland lacks in population however, it makes up for in wonderful wildlife. The countryside of Finland is home to bears, wolves, reindeer, ermine and many other creatures.

The wildlife and countryside isn’t just the home of animals however, it is enjoyed by the Finns probably to a greater extent than most other countries. In Finland there is the concept of ‘Everyman’s Right’, and it gives everyone the right to roam over the Finnish countryside, no matter who owns the land. They can also collect natural produce anywhere, and even fish with a rod and line with no need for permission or a licence. The countryside really is everyone’s to enjoy, a wonderful concept.
By the Campfire at Kuusamo Kitkajoki, Finland

It might be cold in the wintertime, but when the weather warms up Finns really take advantage of it, particularly when it comes to their summer holidays. The idea of the ‘summer cottage’ is not exclusive to Finland, but they have taken to it with gusto. It is estimated that half of families in Finland have their own holiday home in the countryside, others rent or borrow a cottage. Vacationing at the summer cottage in Finland is all about getting away from it all, enjoying the peace and quiet and not being busy. Finns also benefit from the longer days in the summer, which can be very long – perfect for late night games. Of course in the wintertime it is dark and cold all day in some places, but at least then they can take refuge in the warmth of the sauna, a ubiquitous Finnish invention that they have gifted to the world.

Can you name any famous Finns? I bet you know at least one, every child does after all. Yes, that’s right, Santa Claus comes from Lapland in the north of Finland. He and his elves live in the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, and children from all over the world write to him here – he receives about 700,000 letters every year. According to head elf Katja Tervonen, they answer all letters sent to Father Christmas as long as  they include a clearly readable address, and all letters have a special stamp on them. If you are wanting to write to Father Christmas this year, the address to write to is:

Santa Claus
Santa Claus’s Main Post Office
96930
Napapiiri
Finland


You never know, if you are good this year perhaps Santa will bring you what you ask for this year.

Photos on this page are from Visit Finland, and licenced under Creative Commons Licence, (CC BY-NC 2.0)