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Finland marks 105th Independence Day

Celebrations are returning to normal on Finland's 105th Independence Day after a few years of virtual events due to the pandemic.

Image: Petteri Lindholm / Yle

For Finns, Independence Day is not a time for fireworks and jubilation, but for reflection and gratitude for those who fought for Finnish independence.

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 day's festivities began at 9am with a flag-raising ceremony on Helsinki's Tähtitorni hill.

Speaking at the event was Minister of Science and Culture Petri Honkonen (Cen).

"There's good reason to call our independence a success story. One hundred five years ago we were a poor country. Although Finland is small, remote and has a harsh climate with few significant natural resources apart from forests, our country has become a stable and wealthy welfare state," he said.

On Tuesday morning President Sauli Niinistö and First Lady Jenni Haukio laid a wreath at the Hero's Cross in Helsinki's Hietaniemi cemetery in memory of war heroes. At the same time, there was a fly-over by an Air Force F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. The Air Forces are also staging fly-overs in other parts of the country on Tuesday.

The presidential couple then headed to the Lutheran Cathedral for an ecumenical church service at noon.

This year's main military event is a march-past in the southeastern town of Hamina at 1.15pm.

A record high number of participants will march in the Finnish Defence Forces' Independence Day parade this year, with around 1,200 people joining the march. This year marks the first Independence Day parade by the Finnish Defence Forces since 2019, as the Covid pandemic led to the cancellation of the annual pageant in 2020 and 2021.

Beginning at noon on Yle Teema is the annual TV broadcast of Edvin Laine's classic 1955 war movie The Unknown Soldier, based on the novel by Väinö Linna.

Handshakes optional

Finland's Independence Day will be marked in traditional fashion this year with a reception hosted by the first couple.

At 6.50pm, Yle TV1 begins broadcasting the Independence Day Ball at the Presidential Palace, with coverage of after-parties starting at 10.15 pm. The theme of this year's ball is a "nation that trusts in itself."

The gala's programme will reflect the ongoing pandemic.

"It might feel like there are very few reasons to celebrate, but Independence Day and the reception nevertheless present a good opportunity to show gratitude and respect," the president said ahead of the event.

This year's ball has a reduced guest list of around 1,300, which is roughly a third smaller than usual.

There will be dozens of air filters installed around the building, and Niinistö has requested that guests act responsibly and stay away if they have any symptoms of respiratory illness.

The presidential couple is ready to shake hands with guests, but that is not an obligation for invitees if they would prefer not to.

Last week, the president hosted an early Independence Day celebration for war veterans and former members of the Lotta Svärd women's defence organisation to ensure their health and safety.

There are still an estimated 3,000 World War II veterans in Finland. Their average age is 97.

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