Festive season begins with Advent hymns, Christmas markets

This weekend launches the second Covid-era Christmas season in many Finnish towns, with holiday markets and Advent church services.

The Christmas season at Jyväskylä's Church Park (Kirkkopuisto). Image: Eveliina Matikainen / Yle

The opening of the second Covid-era Christmas season is being celebrated this weekend in Finland on a somewhat muted note amid concerns about record-high levels of coronavirus infections.

On Sunday Finland's Lutheran and other Western Christian churches celebrate the beginning of Advent, marking the beginning of a new church year and the pre-Christmas season. It is usually one of the most widely-attended events of the year at the nation's Lutheran churches.

It has been one of the most important church holidays since the Middle Ages. In Finland is closely associated with the "Hoosianna" hymn.

The song was introduced in Stockholm, Sweden in 1795, spreading a few years later to Turku, Finland, which was still part of the Swedish realm.

The Finnish version was published in the late 19th century. It was not however added to the official Finnish Evangelical Lutheran hymnal until 1986.

Yle broadcast the First Sunday of Advent service from St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Siuntio, with singing led by soprano Johanna Rusanen and the Vox Petri choir. Viewers in Finland can see it on Areena.

Finland's other state-supported national church, the Orthodox Church, does not observe Advent, but instead a 40-day period of fasting beginning on the Feast Day of Philip the Apostle on November 14.

Holiday markets open in many towns

With church membership and attendance declining in Finland, more people are taking part in secular, commercial celebrations of the beginning of the holiday season this weekend.

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Due to renovation work at the Senate Square, the traditional Tuomaan Markkinat (St Thomas Market) carousel is running at the nearby Market Square this year. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

In Helsinki, the Christmas shopping season opened on Aleksanterinkatu on Saturday, while the traditional Tuomaan Markkinat (St Thomas Market) began at the nearby Market Square.

The former capital Turku launched its Christmas season on Saturday, including a holiday parade and the opening of the Christmas Market at the Old Market Square. Less than a month from now, the area becomes the national focus of the Christmas Eve observations with the reading of the ancient Declaration of Christmas Peace.

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Tuomaan Markkinat (St Thomas Market) opened on Saturday on Helsinki's Market Square. In addition to the traditional Christmas sales by more than 100 artisans and small-scale producers, the event also features circus and music performances. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

Tampere's Christmas season formally opens on Sunday, with a procession. Part of the city's Christmas Market opened on Saturday.

In the northern city of Oulu, the opening of the Christmas Street scheduled for Friday in was cancelled due to rising coronavirus infections.

Other cities, including Espoo, Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Kokkola, launched their Christmas season last weekend.

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Veera and Rob Wilson and their daughters Taika and Lumi plan to leave for England in a couple of weeks for Christmas, if possible. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

Among those attending the Helsinki festivities on Saturday were Veera and Rob Wilson, who came with their daughters Taika and Lumi to watch the opening event for the first time.

"We're going to England with the family. We really hope to get there by Christmas, because we haven't been able to visit for two years," said Veera Wilson from Helsinki.

She said that the family cherishes British holiday traditions along with Finnish staples such as gingerbread cookies and Christmas ham.

"We combine the traditions of two Christmases and celebrate a big family Christmas," she told Yle.

Even though the family plans to be in the UK for Christmas, they have already put up holiday decorations at home.

"Everyone has had a tough two years, so it's wonderful to start thinking about positive things and Christmas stuff," Wilson said.

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Mira Rantanen and Sofia Girenko came to watch the events at Senate Square with Mira's dog Luuttu. Image: Mårten Lampén / Yle

Another Helsinki local, Mira Rantanen, who was also participating in the event for the first time, described herself as "a Christmas person".

"This atmosphere is great. I make a lot of Christmas food, decorate a lot and I wear an elf hat a lot of the time during the Christmas season," Rantanen said.

She attended with Sofia Girenko, also from Helsinki, who said: "I'm excited. It's really fun to celebrate Christmas with my friends – and even family."