Finland's Independence Day celebrations began a little earlier than usual this year, when President Sauli Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio hosted an event for war veterans and former members of the Lotta Svärd women's defence organisation at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.
The proceedings began with the playing of the 'Jäger March' (Jääkärimarssi in Finnish) and was followed by a welcoming speech delivered by the President.
"It is an honour to celebrate independence with you. War is a cruel time, I'm sure you all have traces of war, deep wounds from your own experiences," Niinistö said, adding that there are many things to be learned from the veterans and the former Lottas.
"War rages in Ukraine today. The waves of that war are being felt here too," he noted.
A reception for war veterans will also be held next Tuesday, 6 December, ahead of the main Independence Day celebration at the Presidential Palace. The reason for the separate events is to ensure the health and safety of the elderly participants.
There are still an estimated 3,000 World War II veterans in Finland, with an average age of 97. The majority of men born between 1923 and 1925 were sent to fight in the war.
This year's events mark the first time since 2019 that in-person Independence Day celebrations have been possible, as events in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled or curtailed by the Covid pandemic.
The theme of this year's celebrations is "Finland as a nation that trusts in itself."
This year's main event — the Linnanjuhlat or Independence Day Gala — has been long in the planning, but will involve a reduced guest list of around 1,300, down by roughly a third compared to a normal year.
The guest list this year includes healthcare professionals, people working in national security, as well as guests who were invited to the Independence Day reception last year, which was cancelled over Covid concerns.
"A significant proportion of the guests this year are invited for the first time, whereas there will be fewer guests than are traditionally invited in their official capacity," the President's office noted in an announcement.
In addition to the smaller number of guests, health precautions will also be taken into account and face masks, for example, will be made available.
The Independence Day celebrations will be broadcast on Yle TV1 as well as via the streaming platform Yle Areena.
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