Residents in many parts of the country will begin lighting advent candles from today, the first Sunday in the Christmas calendar.
For youngsters, Advent is the start of the exciting countdown to Christmas Day. But for the more religious-minded Christians, it heralds the start of the new liturgical year, and is a time of waiting and preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Christ.
For especially devout Christians the Monday after the first Advent usually signals the beginning of a minor period of fasting that culminates in Christmas feasts and festivities. However, this fast does not necessarily mean skipping meals, but is more of a time for self-examination.
"A good opportunity to wind down"
"The fast is a time to focus on oneself, and ponder questions such as: what is my relationship to myself and my loved ones – or God? It's a good opportunity to clear out any extra noise and focus on winding down," says pastor Emilia Teerikangas from Kokkola's Lutheran church.
The church year’s biggest festivities, Christmas and Easter, are divided into three phrases: preparation, celebration and follow-up.
In Finland, Christmas Eve has traditionally been reserved for sharing presents and having a Christmas meal with loved ones. In the church, the festivities kick off on the evening of Christmas day and continue until the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. Follow-up celebrations go on until Easter.
Last year the first Sunday of Advent was the second-most popular attendance day in the Finland's Lutheran churches.