The two main official languages of Finland are Finnish and Swedish, but there are also some lesser-spoken languages too, including variants of the Sami language of the indigenous people of Lapland. Finnish is part of the Finno-Ugric language group with Estonian and Hungarian and there are more similarities between these three languages than Finnish has with its geographical neighbouring languages of Swedish and Norwegian. Many indigenous Sami people from Lapland now speak Finnish as their first language, but some keep their language alive. There are some Finnish dialects around the country and Swedish speakers are mostly settled in the west and south. English is widely practiced, so visitors should have no problem communicating while travelling.
The Finnish population is made up of mostly Finns at around 92%, Finnish Swedes at about 6% and then a number of minorities including Russian, Roma and Sami. The Sami people are the indigenous people of Lapland and traditionally reindeer herders.
The most-followed religion is Lutheran Protestantism at 84% of the country, followed by just over 1% Orthodox Christian, but a high number of Finns state they have no religion, at approximately 13% of the population.
6 December: Anniversary of Independence (1917).
- January 1: New Year's Day.
- January 6: Epiphany.
- February 14: Day of Friendship (Finnish version of Valentine's Day).
- Mar-Apr: Easter (Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays).
- May: Ascension (40 days after Easter) and Pentecost (10 days later).
- May 1: Labor Day, Day Students, Spring Festival.
- Between 20 and 26 June: Saint John (especially in the north).
- November: All Saints Day.
- December 6: National Day.
- December 25: Christmas (24th is a public holiday).
- December 26: Saint Etienne.
The history of civilisation in Finland includes the Sami people, plus a Germanic influence and also some Uralic tribes. In 1157, the Swedish King Eric IX the Holy occupies the country and the Christianisation of Finland and the Finns begins. Turku is the oldest city in Finland, founded in 1229, with a castle and a cathedral, and was once the most important city in the country. For a while the Sweden and Russia struggled and fought over the land, but eventually Finland became an autonomous part of Russian Empire in 1809 - the Grand Duchy of Finland (which means that it was the territory of a duke or duchess). The capital was moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 under the command of the Czar.
Alexander II - who lived from 1818-1881 - was more liberal with regard to Finnish autonomy, and it was during this century that the movement for Finnish nationalism took shape, and in 1863, Finnish became an official language of the Grand Duchy. Nicolas II (1868-1918) was Emperor of Russia and Grand Duke of Finland from 1894–1917 and granted new freedoms to Finns, including allowing women the right to vote, but he lost his title when the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917. The Finns took this opportunity to declare independence on the 6th December 1917, and one month later civil war broke out for three-and-a-half-months between the Reds - Soviet-backed Social Democratic Party - and the Whites, the German-backed Senate. The Whites won and created a monarchistic system with a less-powerful parliament after Russia withdrew, but the defeat of Germany in World War I meant that the monarchy broke down and the country was declared a republic.
During the Cold War, Finland maintained neutral and independent and the country’s economy and social system stayed strong, and in 1955 the country became a member of the UN. The 1980s, however, were marked by a sharp slowdown in the economy until in Finland joined the European Union in 1995.
Finland is a parliamentary republic. The President of the Republic is elected for six years by national vote, and they appoint the Prime Minister who is the leader of the political party with parliamentary majority. The Prime Minister and Parliament - made up of 200 members elected for four years to have a proportional representation of the votes of the country - direct national policy. Finally, a Supreme Court is the keystone of the judicial building.
- Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951). Finland owes undoubtedly its existence as a state to Mannerheim.
- Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) is arguably the most famous FInnish composer and often credited with helping Finland cement its national identity durings its struggle for independence from Russia.
- Matti Nykänen (born 1963) is a six-time world champion and four-time Olympic ski jumping champion.
- Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) is the writer of the epic work of poetry Kalevala, a work of epic poetry composed of Finnish folklore and mythology that is seen as one of the most significant works of Finnish literature, and a huge part of the Finnish identity
The Finns are generally very friendly and social, and you’ll find a warm welcome while travelling here. Saunas are a huge part of Finnish culture and sauna etiquette is important, so if you are going to one, make sure to check the rules with regards to swim wear and shoes etc. Generally speaking, you should remove your shoes when you enter a Finnish home. Other general etiquette includes being punctual, as it’s very important to Finns; tipping is not expected; and haggling isn’t usually accepted.
Finland is famous for its design, including glass, porcelain, wood and aluminum, and you can find decorative objects and utensils for the house. In Finland, handmade objects and homemade foods using sustainable local materials are popular, including birch cups - called kuksa - or smoked and cured meats, and vodka
Finnish cuisine includes lots of hearty soups, root vegetables and fish and meat, including beef, pork, duck, reindeer, salmon, pike and whitefish (muikku) then flavours made from local herbs and berries, such as the famous cloudberry. Local specialties inglude roast ptarmigan, thickets breads (kukko), Karelian stew (beef and pork), Tampere sausages (that are eaten with lingonberry jam) and brioche bread (pulla). Normally breakfasts are hearty and lunches are light, with the evening meal eaten early from 5.30 or 6pm.
Finns drink a lot of coffee; in fact Finnish people consume the most coffee in the world per capita with the average being 11lbs consumed per person per year. You can always find nice beers in bars, and the country is known for its vodka, and when it comes to soft drinks you can try some of their drinks made from fermented berries.