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Finland celebrates 102nd Independence Day

6 December is a day of time-honoured traditions in Finland.

Hernerokkaa jaetaan Heikki Hurstin vähäosaisten itsenäisyyspäivän vastaanotolla Helsingin Hakaniemessä 6. joulukuuta 2019.
Volunteers distribute free food at Heikki Hursti's "poor man's ball" in Helsinki's traditionally blue-collar Hakaniemi district. Image: Pekka Tynell / Yle

The glittering Presidential Reception may steal the limelight each year on 6 December, but the day is punctuated by several other events that have become tradition.

For the last few decades the country has celebrated its birthday in largely the same fashion, with the same series of events scheduled throughout the day. Here is a play-by-play rundown of the events in Helsinki on Friday.

9am: The raising of the Finnish flag at Tähtitornimäki, choir performance, address from the Speaker of the Parliament.

9:05am: Sun rises.

10:05am: Broadcast of 1939 film Seven Brothers on Channel One.

11:30am: Heikki Hursti’s "poor man’s ball." The event distributes free food in Helsinki’s Hakaniemi district and is one of the main grass-roots events seeking to include society’s outliers in the celebrations.

Noon:

Finland’s President and top ministers attend an ecumenical church service at the Lutheran Cathedral in central Helsinki, televised and streamed by Yle.

A military parade in a different city each year. This year, tanks rolled through the streets of Tampere, amid some 30,000 onlookers. The parade also featured a 30-strong riding cavalry. Several other cities throughout the country arrange parades or concert performances in the afternoon.

3:17pm: Sun sets.

4pm: Student groups, dignitaries and residents normally pay homage to Finland’s war veterans with visits to memorials and cemeteries. Part of this tradition entails lighting candles at the graves of war heroes and former presidents. Many of Finland’s presidents are buried in Helsinki’s Hietaniemi cemetery.

4:30pm: After dusk arrives, Many Finns light candles in the windows of their homes, a tradition that dates back to the 1920s.

5:00pm: University students begin a torchlight procession through the town. In Helsinki, the students leave from the Hietaniemi Cemetery at 5 pm and pass the Presidential Palace where the President usually greets the procession from the balcony. The march then proceeds to the Senate Square, where just before 6 pm patriotic hymns are sung by the Helsinki Male Voice Choir and the mayor of the city gives a speech.

6:11pm Many Finns round off their holiday evening by settling down at 6pm to watch live coverage of the President’s Independence Day Reception.

Knowledge and discussion are the themes for this year’s annual Independence Day Gala, according to the office of President Sauli Niinistö.. Last year's reception emphasised the environment. The event is broadcast live from the Presidential Palace and is one of the most-watched television programmes of the year.

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