Helsinki’s Töölö Sports Hall usually welcomes more than a thousand people for the Hursti organisation’s Christmas festivities. Marginalised or impoverished people are able to get a hot meal and some Christmas cheer thanks to the volunteers who staff the kitchens and serve customers, but this year demand for the service outstripped supply.
"Once a year certain groups of people—if I can say it like that—are treated like kings and queens," said volunteer Kaitsu Rinne. "That is Christmas spirit at its best."
Veikko Hursti began his work helping the poor and needy in the 1960s with regular distributions of food and clothes, as well as services like haircuts, free of charge to those in need.
His son Heikki has continued the tradition since Veikko died in 2005, and was pleased to see old and new faces come to enjoy Christmas. He is keen to continue his work long into the future.
"So long as I’m able, I’ll try to do that," said Hursti. "When I can’t, somebody else will certainly take over."
"Impressive and unforgettable"
Tytti Ahvenainen has attended the event every Christmas for the last 18 years.
"I’m a bit like an orphan," Ahvenainen told Yle. "I always come to celebrate Christmas here."
The facilities are not able to keep up with surging demand for the service. Hursti has talked before of moving to a bigger venue, and this year some of those lining up to take part could not join the official programme. One attendee who might be able to help meet Hursti expand is President Sauli Niinistö, who turned up along with his wife Jenni Haukio.
”A really impressive and unforgettable event,” said Niinistö.