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Finland's Independence Day (Finnish itsenäisyyspäivä, Swedish självständighetsdag) is a national public holiday held on 6 December to celebrate Finland's declaration of independence from the Russian empire. The movement for Finland's Independence started after the revolutions in Russia, caused by the disturbances from the defeats of the First World War. This gave an opportunity for Finland to withdraw from Russia. After several disagreements between the non-socialists and the social-democrats about the matter of who should have the power in Finland, the parliament, led by Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, finally declared Finland as an independent state, on 6 December 1917.

Independence Day was first celebrated in 1919. However, during the first years of independence, 6 December was in some parts of Finland only a minor holiday compared to 16 May, which was the day of celebration for the Whites who prevailed in the Finnish Civil War.[1]

During the early decades of independence, Independence Day was a very solemn occasion marked by patriotic speeches and special Church services. From the 1970s onwards, however, Independence day celebrations have taken on livelier forms, with shops decorating their windows in the blue and white of the Finnish flag, and bakeries producing cakes with blue and white icing. Today, rock stars and entertainers have been accepted as worthy interpreters of Finnish patriotism.

It is traditional for many Finnish families to light two candles in each window of their home in the evening. This custom dates to the 1920s, but even earlier, candles had been placed in windows on the birthday of poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg as a silent protest against perceived Russian oppression. A popular legend has it that two candles were used as a sign to inform young men on their way to Sweden and Germany to become jägers that the house was ready to offer shelter and keep them hidden from the Russians.[2]

State festivities

The official festivities usually commence with the raising of the flag on Tähtitorninmäki ("Observatory Hill"), in Helsinki. There is a religious service at the Helsinki Cathedral and official visits to the war memorials of World War II.

YLE broadcasts the movie adaptation of The Unknown Soldier, based on Väinö Linna's iconic novel. In most years, the 1955 film is shown, but the 1985 version has also been shown.

In the evening, a gala reception is held for approximately 2000 invited guests at the Presidential Palace. This event, known as Linnan juhlat ("the castle ball"), is broadcast on national television and has been a perennial favorite of the viewing public. The first presidential ball was organised in 1919, and the event has been held most years since.[3]

The reception invariably attracts the attentions of demonstrators, supportive of various causes, and various demonstrations and shadow parties are held to coincide with the official event. The late philanthropist Veikko Hursti organized the most popular of these events, providing free food for the poor and underprivileged—a tradition that has been carried on by his son since his 2005 death.

The most popular television segment of the Independence day reception is the entrance of the guests. These include persons who receive invitations every year, including the knights of the Mannerheim Cross (traditionally the first ones to enter), members of the Government and the Parliament of Finland, archbishops, judges, high military and police officers, and various diplomats and dignitaries. The second group includes people of the President's own choosing, typically entertainers, activists, sportspersons, and in general, people who have been in the spotlight over the past year. The last people to enter are always the previous presidents.

See also

The 90th Anniversary of Finland's Declaration of Independence was recently selected as the main motif for a high-value commemorative coin, the €5 90th Anniversary of Finland's Declaration of Independence commemorative coin, minted in 2007. The reverse shows petroglyphic aesthetics, while the obverse has a nine-oar boat with rowers, symbolizing collaboration as a true Finnish trait. Signs of music and Finnish zitherin strings can be discerned in the coin's design.




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