The first Sunday in December (also called the First Advent) starts the Finnish Christmas season.
Christmas lights begin to appear in the stores along with gifts, goods and goodies for the festival. Children count the days to the festival making their own Christmas calendar with some great pictures related to the Christmas theme or even some chocolate caramel.
In Finland the Christmas tree is set up on Christmas Eve. Fir trees are felled, tied onto sleds, and taken home to be decorated beautifully with candies, paper flags, cotton, tinsel, apples and other fruits. Candles are used for lighting the trees. Many women make a visit to some local sauna to groom themselves for the occassion.
Christmas here is replete with different homegrown customs. In Finnish rural areas, it is a popular tradition for farmers to tie a sheaf of grain, nuts and seeds on a pole and placing it in the garden for the birds to feed on. Only after birds eat their dinner, the farmers partake of their Christmas dinner.
Christmas dinner traditionally begins in Finland with the appearance of the first star in the sky. Dinner is served between 5-7 pm, and consists usually of roasted pig or a roasted ham and vegetables. The main dish is boiled codfish, served white and fluffy, along with allspice, boiled potatoes, and cream sauce. A week ahead of the dinner, the codfish is soaked in a lye solution to soften it.
Once the dinner is complete, children head straight to bed while adults chat and drink coffee until about midnight. Other important traditions of the day consist of a visit to the Christmas mass. Many Finnish families also visit cemeteries to remember the dead and have porridge for lunch. Joyful carols and local Christmas songs also form an essential part of Christmas Eve festivities.
On Christmas Day, church services start out early at six in the morning. Most people visit families and friends. Family get-togethers are the high point of this day. Christmas cards are being exchanged and everyone wishes another "Hyvaa Joulua", meaning "Merry Christmas" in Finnish.