Helsinki Christmas Markets

I’ve lost track of time. When I went to buy our Christmas tree yesterday I couldn’t figure out why it was on sale. And then I realised – there’s only one week till Christmas! A common complaint in NZ and Australia is that Christmas merchandise starts appearing in stores around October but I haven’t noticed that so much here, with things really kicking off just this month.


Helsinki Christmas Markets run from 8-21 December and over 100 colourful cabins have been set up in Senate Square. Nerea and I went down on a cool and crisp day to check them out.

IMG_4356One of the hardest things about the Baltic wind right now is having cold ears! The markets have piles of warm woollen mittens, hats and ear warmers to choose from.


You can see this mannequin is also sporting a knitted neck warmer. Plainer versions are really popular for children to stop cold air slipping down their jackets and are easily removed so they are not too hot once indoors.

IMG_4351There’s a range of food on offer – including the ubiquitous smoked salmon, pickled vegetables, pickled herring, berry jams and sauces.



You can also find reindeer pelts and sheepskins to warm up your home – or why not go the whole fox if that’s your thing?


Finnish baking is on offer, such as traditional ginger biscuits (piparkakut) as is glögi, Finnish mulled wine popular at Christmas.

IMG_4361 IMG_4358

There are also warm Kareljan piiraka and lihakeitto (meat soup) as well as pulled pork rolls and vegan burgers to be found.



If you are in Helsinki I recommend stopping by before the markets close in five days time!

And for anyone feeling even slightly grinchy I have included below what may just be the cheesiest photo I have ever taken.


You know you’re in Finland when…

Some days I wake up and it takes me a while to realise I am still in Finland. Voices float up from the street and then it dawns on me, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in Finland. And everyone speaks Finnish.’

I’m also reminded by things around our house, as although ours may not be a typical Finnish home, I’d say it is pretty standard for most Helsinki apartments.

Here’s what is different to our home in New Zealand:

There are two front doors, about five inches apart and the first front door has a slot in it for the mail to be delivered through.


Just inside the apartment are two open wardrobes for hanging jackets and putting shoes. As winter approaches this becomes even more important and now holds gumboots, gloves, hats and scarves too.


There is a thermometer just outside the window near the front door. As winter approaches we check it every day before we go out so we dress for the weather and not our heated apartment.


There are heaters in every room that are turned on by the building manager once the temperature drops below a certain level for a few days in a row.


The washing machine is in the bathroom.


There’s a sauna off the bathroom.


The pipes in the bathroom are exposed.


The windows are triple-glazed and there are two doors out onto our balcony to keep the cold out. In summer we had the balcony open but you can also pull the windows across to make it more like a conservatory.


This photo was taken before we unpacked but is pretty much how our balcony looks again as the plants and armchairs have been brought inside for winter.


We’ve seen dramatic changes in the view from the balcony in the five months we’ve lived in this apartment.











You may notice that every apartment has external ladders too, which I believe is to do with removing snow from the roof. There are not many chimneys either, although Joulupukki (Santa Claus) comes in the front door on Christmas Eve so no worries there.


Oh yes, and there’s always this: the Finnish flag which is raised by each building manager on public holidays and special anniversaries. My brother-in-law also told me the flag will be raised to half-mast if someone in the building has died – a good time, he says, to call in if you are looking for a place to rent!

Update: how could I forget this??

Two Women Practising Everyman’s Right

Nature's supermarket

Nature’s supermarket

I’ve met two talented herbalists in Helsinki lately and their commitment to sourcing herbs that grow wild in Finland is supported by the concept of Everyman’s Right – which is not, as it sounds, some dating manifesto from the Victorian era.



The first herbalist was Justine Cederberg who, among other things, makes a Love Elixir using herbs that grow in the wild. You can read my interview with her here and how she uses the sauna to make her tinctures.


I also had a consultation with Henriette Kress, a herbalist who has created one of the world’s largest online herbal archives. In her consulting room is a large cupboard, full of glass jars. Each jar holds dried herbs she has collected from the wild and from which she made me a tea to take home.


My herbal tea – wild rose, sage root, nettle and (perhaps imported) mandarin peel

To both herbalists it’s important that people are taking herbs that grow around them and Everyman’s Right allows them to do this. It also ensures that Finns can continue to eat according to the seasons as they have traditionally done so.



Basically, Everyman’s Right means that without going into someone’s yard, you can walk, fish, swim, camp and forage on other people’s land in Finland without permission, as long as you don’t disturb protected species.

For those who don't want to get their hands dirty

For those who don’t want to get their hands dirty

It would be really unusual I think for anyone in Australia or New Zealand to be okay with finding someone else on their land, picking their fruit without permission. Being recently colonised countries, land rights and fishing rights can be contentious issues back home.

Although we do have a wonderful culture in NZ of fishing and gathering shellfish, picking wild berries and foraging, I think the main difference here is not needing permission to go onto someone else’s land to do so.



We had a great day out searching for mushrooms and blueberries in the forest during our first trip to Finland four years ago. Although we ate everything we picked, any income people make from selling picked berries or mushrooms is tax-free.


Blueberry bushes (foreground)

Perhaps not this one

Natures way of saying: Do not go there

We used to pick blackberries in New Zealand when I was younger and although I’m sure we had the landowner’s permission, what I remember most is being chased by a big ol’ hairy goat that obviously hadn’t read the memo about our rights at all!


Freedom to Roam

Everyman’s Right – the Finnish Ministry of the Environment

Henriette Kress

Excuse me, do I work here?

New Zealanders love a good DIY ( Do It Yourself ) attitude – build your own fence, concrete your own driveway…but Finns bring it into the everyday as at most cafes you’ll find it’s DIY dishes.

You don’t actually have to wash them but there’s usually a place for you to scrape your dishes, stack them and sort the rubbish from the recycling.


Having grown up with school lunches provided I’d say most Finnish adults are used to this and probably do it without thinking.

It’s great actually – it means the tables are cleared before you sit down, even when the staff are busy.

Used dishes stand & bin at Fafa's

Used dishes stand & rubbish bin at Fafa’s

At Cafe Regatta there are a couple of places for customers to stack their used dishes. You can also have free coffee refills and you get 5c back each time you refill your cup….*

So if times were tough and you were really desperate, you’d probably only have to drink 45 cups of coffee before you started to make your money back and started getting paid to stack that one dirty cup.


Cafe Regatta

 *the beauty of this is no one wants a 5c piece in their wallet so they tend to go straight into the tips jar

Colours All Around Us



Finland has four very definite seasons and syksy (autumn) has surprised and stunned me with its vibrant colour displays.


We are very lucky in New Zealand to have a native bush reserve behind our house, but I realise now that it is made up of evergreens, that while beautiful, hardly change colour.


My walk home from Finnish class today was punctuated by trees sporting shades that match all the new words we have recently learnt – punainen (red), vihreä (green), keltainen (yellow), oranssi (orange) and ruskea (brown).




The walk around Töölönlahti is different each day as the trees start to drop the leaves we watched them grow only six months ago.



I find the beauty of the city right now is definitely helping me adapt to the cooler weather.





Today was a warm 12 degrees and so Miko and I stayed on after daycare to play with some friends in the leaves.



IMG_3098We used to always try to imagine how things will look once they are covered in snow. For now I’m just enjoying how they look painted for autumn.


Come wash with me

We brought one big rug amongst our household things to Finland and apart from the occasional vacuum it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. If we are going to have an authentic Finnish experience however, it seems we will have to beat it.

photo 1

A communal rug beater in an apartment block in Lappeenranta

 Most Finnish homes are not carpeted and instead are furnished with a few rugs of various sizes. Effective heating removes the need for carpet and there seems to be a commonly held belief that carpets are unhygienic.


 So outside most apartment buildings and homes you will find a structure for hanging rugs while you beat them. This seems to be something of a summer ritual, however I have read accounts of people laying rugs out in the snow to harden them up before beating them.


 Traditionally, washing rugs has been something of an event down by the lakes and waterways of Finland. Many places still have large areas set up solely for this purpose.


 As people have started introducing chemical detergents into their washing routines the effect on waterways has been considered and water is now often diverted away from the main outlets. People are also encouraged to use natural products.


Although there was only one man out the day we walked past this area, the laundering of rugs can be quite a social event, with many tubs set up for washing and soaking. There is also a large wringer used to help speed up drying.

IMG_1729 And what better way to relax and enjoy the summer sun than to take a dip yourself while your rug dries? (In the lake that is, not the tubs).