Christmas preparations begin early in Finland, with everyone cleaning their houses for the three holy days of Christmas. However, the official start to the Christmas season is the first Sunday in Advent, when Vogler's 'Hosianna' is played at church services and there are special Advent Concerts in the evening.
Christmas lights begin to appear in shops, offices and towns and advent decorations are brought out. Families count the days to Christmas with advent calendars and advent candles.
The celebration of St Lucia Day (13 December) was only introduced to Finland from Sweden in 1950 but has been widely adopted by Finnish families. Additionally, a national Lucia is chosen by public vote from a short list of ten teenage girls and December 13 marks her first official appearance, wearing a long white dress and a crown of lighted candles. Following this she pays visits to Christmas gatherings, hospitals and schools to spread her message of light, hope and charity.
On the final Sunday before Christmas, families start to look for their tree. This is usually brought into the house the day before Christmas and decorated with national flags and straw mobiles called 'himmeli'. The tree is then lit for the first time
Christmas Eve is the main highlight of the season and is a special day which begins with a breakfast of rice porridge and plum fruit juice. The morning is generally spent decorating the tree. Wherever possible, families get together and, at midday, the 'peace of Christmas' is broadcast on television and radio from Turku, the former capital of Finland. This marks the beginning of the festivities.
At about 5.00pm a church service is held and candles are placed on the graves of loved ones.
On their return home it is the time that all children are waiting for - the visit of Joulupukki (Father Christmas) who is believed to live in the northern part of Finland in Korvatunturi, north of the Arctic Circle. Often children will dress up as his helpers in red tights, long red cap and grey/red cotton suit.
After the gifts have been given out it is time for the traditional Christmas meal. This consists of a variety of dishes - ham or turkey with macaroni, rutabaga, carrot and potato which is followed by rice porridge and raisin soup.
On Christmas Day people generally attend a church service in the morning before spending the day with family and friends.
The Christmas holiday season continues until Twelfth Night on 6 January.