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Independence Day celebrations begin in Hämeenlinna and Helsinki, overshadowed by pandemic

Finland celebrates its 103rd year of independence with mostly virtual events.

Mies ja nainen sytyttävät kynttilää Hietaniemen hautausmaalla.
President Sauli Niinistö laid a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at Hietaniemi Cemetery on Sunday morning. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Finland has been celebrating its 103rd Independence Day on a subdued note, beginning with a flag-raising at 9am with a flag-raising in the south-central city of Hämeenlinna.

The national flag-raising tradition on Helsinki’s Tähtitorni Hill dates back to 1957, and has been televised by Yle since the year after that. This year is the first time the event has taken place outside Helsinki, in order to avoid attracting a large crowd.

Making the traditional speech at the event was Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Cen). As usual, there was singing by the Viipurin lauluveikot, a male choir founded in 1897 in Vyborg, which was ceded to the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The choir was closely associated with national composer Jean Sibelius, who was born in Hämeenlinna on 8 December 1865.

Hornet jets heard, not seen

At 10am, President Sauli Niinistö laid a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki. Simultaneously, there was a fly-over by four Air Force F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

Due to heavy cloud cover, the airplanes were not visible, but could certainly be heard. The Air Force also arranged fly-overs of Hornet and Hawk jets in other parts of the country on Independence Day morning.

Niinistö sent Independence Day wishes to the nation and to Finns abroad via Twitter, while Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and other government ministers posted video greetings. Former President Tarja Halonen, Speaker of Parliament Anu Vehviläinen (Cen) and other politicians also weighed in with social media messages.

Saarikko participates in ecumenical church service

Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio went to light candles at Helsinki’s Lutheran Cathedral ahead of the annual Independence Day ecumenical church service beginning at noon. This year only a handful of people, including Niinistö and Haukio, attended the bilingual Christian service.

The sermon was delivered by the Lutheran Bishop of Tampere, Matti Repo, with one of the readings by Minister of Science and Culture Annika Saarikko (Cen). Music was by the Cantores Minores boys choir, with the members standing apart from each other and wearing masks, as did all other participants.

The one-hour service was broadcast live on Yle TV1, Yle Radio 1 and Yle Areena.

The day's events climax with the annual reception at the Presidential Palace, which this year is a virtual event with live music but no guests.

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