I spent my first Christmas ever away from my family and friends in the Bay Area. While this was bittersweet, I welcomed the Finnish Christmas experience. The Finns do celebrate Christmas a little differently from what we are used to in the States, but overall they practice many of the same traditions. One almost "sure thing" that normally occurs in Finland is a "White Christmas". However, they must have known I was coming from California, because it has been nothing short of near record warmth. There was no snow in sight for Christmas in the Southern Finland area, in fact the 2 days after Christmas have been 46-49 degrees Fahrenheit. That might not seem exactly balmy, but in Finland which is about the same latitude as Alaska it is downright hot for this time of year.
Most Finns get their tree on the day before Christmas and many of them just cut a tree down in a local forest. In Finland there is a law that all forests are public, even if someone own the land, others may roam freely across, picking berries or even cutting trees down. Of course this is different from owning a house with yard. Also in Finland, I have not noticed the overblown ostentatious lighting systems in people's yards that you see all over the Bay Area. People seem to keep their lighting down a minimum, that gets back to the fact that people in Finland are never trying to stand out above the rest. Showing off is a language that they don't seem to speak.
The Finnish traditional Christmas meal consisted of a salt-cured ham, potato, carrot, liver and rutabaga casseroles. Also, carrot, beet and pickle salad (yum!), smoked salmon, Karelian pies and rye bread. For me, Finnish food has been an acquired taste, but I think I am slowly getting used to it. They have two spices in their vocabulary, that is salt and pepper. The main day of Christmas in Finland is Dec. 24th, this is the day that most families open their gifts. Also many families either rent a Santa or their dads dress up in Santa suits and deliver the gifts early evening on the 24th. December 25th, traditionally known as Christmas day in the States, is merely a day of rest in Finland, as is the 26th another Holiday in Finland. Stores are essentially closed on both the 24th and 25th and open for limited hours on the 26th. People are not known to have those lavish American style huge Christmas dinners in Finland. They normally prefer a small celebration with immediate family and they do take their relaxing seriously. Christmas to the Finns should not be a place to get stressed out about going to 3 parties and preparing loads of food for everyone. Overall, though I missed my large family celebration in the Bay Area, I actually liked the mellow Christmas experience just being around immediate family and taking the time to really relax.