Nature’s Lanterns: A Finnish Tradition
previous next

“Nature’s Lanterns: A Finnish Tradition,” Ensign, Dec. 1982, 16–17

Nature’s Lanterns:

A Finnish Tradition

Peace and Christmas are inseparable in my mind, especially when I remember Christmas in Finland.

Candles, those little light bearers that really give of themselves, belong in a very special way to a Finnish Christmas. The day before Christmas Eve we start to prepare for the lights we want to use outside the house. If the temperature is above freezing and the snow is thus wet enough, we make snowballs, small ones about the size of an apple. Placing these balls on the tops of gateposts, we then hollow out a space inside for a candle. When the candle is lit, this snow lattern, as we call it, becomes a translucent snowball.

If it is too cold to make snowballs, we fill a pail with water and leave it out overnight. In the morning we hollow out this big ice lump with a hot poker. Carefully turning it out of the pail, we place it upside down with a candle inside. And we have a ice lantern. Both the ice lantern and the snow lantern glow with a tiny, fairy light in the midst of the midwinter darkness, reflected and diffused by the white snow.

On Christmas Eve we put up the Christmas tree, decorating it with living candles. Taking care to avoid any possibility of fire, we also place candles on the dinner table, on the windows, everywhere—not for illumination (we have electricity)—but for their warm, living glow. Their radiance, more personal than that of the electric bulb, creates the right atmosphere for Christmas stories and memories; it seems to stimulate acts of love and compassion.

When the family has gathered and the candles are lit in the tree, on the table, and throughout the house, we begin Christmas Eve dinner. In the candlelight before dinner begins, we read the Christmas story from the Bible and sing the beloved Christmas hymn by Martin Luther.

The highlight of the evening for the children comes after dinner: joulupukki (Santa Claus) arrives in person with his sack of presents. Framed by soft candle light, he is not frightening.

Either before or after Christmas Eve dinner, the family walks to the local cemetery, usually nestled, parklike, in the middle of the city. Here we remember family members who have passed away, placing not flowers—for this is winter but candles on the graves. Thousands of candles burn in the cemeteries in Finland on Christmas Eve.

Imagine—thousands of tiny lights amidst deep snowdrifts in the December darkness. It is an unforgettable sight. Can you see why, when I think of Christmas and peace, I think of Finland and candles?

  • Helvi Temiseva serves as a translator for the Church in her homeland, Hameenlinna, Finland.

Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten