Just when the winter sun begins to smile on snow-covered fields and hills, school children in Finland take a break and head off to enjoy the wintry outdoors.
The annual ski holiday (hiihtoloma in Finnish) is such an important part of Finnish society that when airport and ground handling staff at the Helsinki Airport threatened to go on strike during one of the busiest travel seasons in the local calendar last year, Labour Minister Jari Lindström intervened to ensure that families could fly to their holiday destinations.
The hiatus in the school calendar harks back to the 1920s and although more affluent and worldly Finnish residents nowadays opt to visit southern sun-kissed beaches, it also gives youngsters holidaying at home an opportunity to practice winter pursuits that have become part of the fabric of Finnish society.
From ice skating to snowboarding
And of course every good Finn recalls the exploits of Finland’s stealthy Winter War ski forces, including the legendary sniper Simo Häyhä, who is believed to have 500 Russian scalps under his belt.
So Finnish kids take to the skating rinks and ski slopes to hone their skills in sports such as ice skating, cross country skiing and more recently free-style skiing and snowboarding. And naturally, every parent in Finland dreams and hopes that maybe – just maybe – their kids will one day become an ice hockey superstar.
The one-week holiday period is staggered across the country with schools in the south breaking for the vacation around mid-February. Students in central Finland take off one week after their peers in the south while students up north have their vacations a week after that.