SFHS Topmenu: Finlander | SFHS | Repository | Talko | DEE |



Jump to: navigation, search

Official name: Republic of Finland, Suomi (soo-WAH-mee)


Early History - the Sami and the Finns

The earliest Finns settled in Finland around 100 AD. They were tribes living in the forests that surrounded lakes. Many scholars believe they once lived in what is now west-central Siberia. Even before they came, the Lapps, or Sami as they are known in their own language, were living in the north tracking the reindeer across Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is estimated that the Sami moved into the area after the last ice age, which ended about 10,000 years ago.

Finland under Sweden ...

Swedish settlers out for the crusades made Finland a part of Sweden in 1154. Sweden was a powerful country in the following centuries. It expanded in all directions. Finland was a rich source of soldiers for Sweden's military campaigns, and many were lost in foreign countries. In 1696-97 a famine killed about one-third of the Finnish population.

...and Russia

War from 1700-1721 ended Sweden's rule as a world power. While Sweden was busy defending itself in Europe, Russia began to take over in Finland. Throughout the 18th century, Russia either occupied Finland or demanded land in return for withdrawing. By 1809, Russia was occupying Finland and did not intend to leave. Sweden was forced to let Russia make Finland part of Russia.

Under Russia, Finland enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. National pride and identity developed, and Finnish became a national language. Finns stopped thinking of themselves as Swedes. At the same time, they resisted thinking of themselves as Russians. For its part, however, Russia was increasingly thinking of Finland as part of Russia. Toward the end of the 19th century national pride in Finland grew as Russian repression increased. In 1917, shortly after the Russian Revolution, Finland declared its independence. A short but bitter civil war followed in 1918 between Finnish nationalists and Finns who wanted to stay Russian. Today the government is a coalition of Finns of both political leanings.

World War II - a Dilemma for Finland

When World War II broke out Finland was in a bad position. Initially it tried to remain neutral, like the other Scandinavian countries. However, when the USSR tried to annex, or add, parts of northeast Finland for its own defense, Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany. As the USSR had feared, Germany used Finland as a base for attacking the Soviet frontier. Finland would pay dearly for its alliance. When it became clear that the USSR was going to win the war in that area, Finland stopped fighting and negotiated a peace in Moscow. The Finnish government agreed to pay large fines and to give up some territory in the north. They had to pay the USSR over 500 million dollars and resettle 400,000 people from the territories that were no longer Finland's.

The War and After

The war with the USSR was over. However, there were still German troops in the north of Finland. They would not leave voluntarily, so Finland had to drive them out. As they left, the German troops destroyed most of what they passed through - forests, villages and cities. From November of 1939 to spring of 1945, while Finland was at war with either the USSR or Germany, 100,000 Finnish soldiers were killed. Today a treaty with the USSR states that Finland will not permit its land to be used as a base for attacking the USSR, and the two countries have key trade relations.

Finns take great pride in knowing that except for Great Britain and the USSR, Finland was the only European country to avoid foreign occupation during World War II. Although the Germans did attack or enter these three countries, they did not set up an occupation force to rule the people. An additional source of pride for Finns is that while Germany forced countries throughout Europe to deport their Jewish citizens to be killed, Finnish Jews remained safe at home.

Population and Ethnic Groups

Most likely, present-day Finns are descended from the Sami who moved into the region after the Great Ice Age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, and from immigrants who arrived between 100 and 800 AD. They usually have blue or gray eyes and blond or light brown hair.

Two minority groups also live in Finland. The Lapps, or Sami, live in the northern area known as Lapland. Once they traveled across the tops of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, following the reindeer. Today international borders confine them to the country in which they happen to live. About 5,000 of them live in Finland. The second, less well-known minority group is the Gypsies. About 5,500 Gypsies live in south Finland.

The population of Finland is about 4.5 million. The growth rate is slow. About 5% of the population emigrates, mostly to Sweden. The birth rate is low. Because of the low rate of growth, the government offers benefits to families with children. Each family, regardless of income, gets an allowance for each child. It can be used for child care or to help support a family while one parent stays home to care for the children. Or the money can be used to pay for the children's college education if they go somewhere other than Finland's free universities.


Finland is a parliamentary republic. The highest offices are the presidency and the one-house parliament. In 1906, Finnish women became the first in Europe to vote. Unlike in other countries, women also became members of parliament, cabinet ministers, and ambassadors in the early part of the century.

The parliament is made up of members of many political parties. The make-up of the parliament changes each four years as elections are held, but the govern-ment is basically stable. Though the parties have strongly-held differences because some are communist or socialist and others are conservative, they tend to be held in balance. The conservatives have gained in recent years as the economy grows strong. The communists have lost some of their influence as their intended supporters flourish under a capitalist economy.

Finland has an extremely high standard of living. Most Finnish families have TV sets, cars, and many appliances, and many city-dwellers also have country homes. Finland's wealth is among the most evenly distributed in the industrial world. These facts have this effect: most people in Finland live quite well.

Finland is a neutral country that has warm relations with many countries around the world. Its main purpose in its dealings with other countries is to keep itself secure and independent. This is especially true of its relations with the USSR, with whom Finland shares a border. Finland's relations with other countries are based primarily on trade, tourism and cultural exchanges. Since 1955, it has supported and participated in the United Nations' efforts to find peaceful solutions to disputes and to help develop the independence of Third World countries.


Finnish currency is the markka and the penni. One markka equals 100 penni.


Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. Finnish is the first language of 93.6% of the people; 6.2% speak Swedish; and 0.2% speak some-thing else. Finnish is not like any of the other Scandinavian languages. It is one of the Finno-Ugrian languages, a group of Asian languages. It is related to Hungarian. Lappish, the language of the Sami, is also Finno-Ugrian.

In school, children study in the language they speak at home. Newspapers, government papers, and educational materials are in both languages. In bilingual areas, street signs are also in both Finnish and Swedish. When children are in 3rd grade, they are required to study English. They must also learn either Swedish or Finnish, whichever they do not speak at home.


About 90% of Finland is Lutheran. Children learn religion in the public schools as part of their coursework. The church is allowed to tax its members.


Children from seven to sixteen are required to go to school, and almost 100% of Finns can read. From 1st through 6th grades, they study these subjects: religious knowledge, environmental studies, Finnish and Swedish, English, history and social studies, civics, math, biology, geography, physical education, music, art and handicrafts. Finnish schools offer children many chances to study foreign languages. Many children graduate speaking four or more languages.

The school day usually goes from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The noon meal is free. Vacations come around Christmas, for 10 weeks in the summer, and in late February for a week of skiing. The school system also has summer camps for children's recreation. This gives city children a chance to live in the country during the summer. Children go to either a Finnish or Swedish speaking camp.

Education is free through the university level. After grade school, children may either drop out or go on to high school in either a vocational or academic program. Most go on. Enrollment in high school is the highest in the world. One in four children in Finland graduates from one of Finland's nine universities.

The Arts

Literature and the Kalevala

During the centuries Finland was under Swedish rule, Swedish was the official language and Finnish was only a spoken language. The major literary works were all written in Swedish. In the 19th century, Finns began to feel Finnish. A loose organization of artists and thinkers came together. They helped develop a Finnish sense of identity for their people that was independent of Russia and Sweden. One of these writers, Elias Lönnrot, began collecting songs, poems and tales from Finnish folklore. He organized them into one long literary work called the Kalevala which he published in 1835. The Kalevala became an important base for Finnish culture, a poem of 22,795 lines in its second edition, published in 1849. It has been translated into more than 35 languages.

The material of the Kalevala is very old. It reflects ancient beliefs and accounts of the creation and history of the world passed down through song and story from one generation to the next. The stories, poems, and songs that Lönnrot used were about a mighty singer and magician named Väinämöinen and his friend, the blacksmith, IImarinen. They forged the Sampo, with which they performed great feats of magic and strength. The Sampo was a tool that changed form from one poem or tale to another. But it always had magical powers and was a symbol of good luck and power.

Music and Theater

The material Lönnrot collected in the Kalevala came to him in the form of songs known as runot. One song is a runo, or rune in English. Because they had all been learned by word of mouth, many songs and stories came in different forms and with different melodies. They were performed by a singer called a runo singer. These songs were learned from the singer's parents. There were famous runo singer families. These families made changes in songs over the generations adding to them, combining songs, and changing tunes. It was not important to keep the songs the same. In fact, they were meant to change. The selection of songs of a good runo singer was very large. Some knew over 11,000 lines of poetry that they could sing or fashion into new songs.

The singers were accompanied by a stringed instrument called the kantele, known as the Finnish harp. The kantele is a popular instrument even today. It looks something like a zither or an autoharp. The player either holds the instrument on his or her lap or places it on a table.

Today folk music is very important in Finland. Summer folk music festivals throughout the country keep the traditional music alive. At these festivals people listen to music and learn new ways of singing and playing old songs.

Folk music has also influenced serious music in Finland. The work of composer Jean Sibelius draws many melodies and themes from Finnish folk songs. His famous Finlandia, first performed in 1899, was greatly inspiring to the Finnish people who recognized in it melodies from their folk heritage. The premier performance of Finlandia coincided with increasingly repressive actions on the part of Russia. Following the performance, the people took to the streets in open demonstration of Finnish pride.

Music and theater in Finland are both very popular. Both draw on traditional Finnish forms and on European influences. Finns love jazz and hold an inter-national jazz festival annually in Pori. The Finnish National Theatre was founded in 1872. Today there are 50 professional theaters in Finland with 2.5 million spectators a year. These theaters are subsidized, or supported, by public funding. The Finnish theater shows much Russian influence in acting and directing, but its favorite playwright is Shakespeare.

Finnish Architecture and Design

Finland's artistic influence has been most widely felt in architecture and design. Around the turn of the century architects Alvar Aalto and Eliel Saarinen began to develop their art and philosophy. They also began to design buildings. Their influence has been worldwide. Saarinen spent much of his life as director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In the United States, Aalto designed buildings from Boston to Oregon. His glass and furniture designs are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. They are familiar even to people who don't know who designed them. The Finnish design tradition, like those of other Scandinavian countries, embraces many forms. Designers and architects often overlap in their work, designing both the structure of a building and what goes inside as well - textiles, furniture, and dishes.


Finland is the most northern country in Europe. It is bordered on the west by Sweden and Norway, on the east by the USSR. The southern border is the Baltic Sea and the northern border is the Arctic. The northernmost 25% of Finland extends well into the Arctic Circle. Finland has an area of 130,119 sq. miles (338,000 sq. km), slightly smaller than Montana.

Finland has more than 60,000 lakes and 30,000 coastal islands. These lakes are quite shallow. Because shallow water can be easily polluted, Finns have a strong interest in preserving the purity of their lakes. Much of the land has been set aside as nature preserves and national parkland.

Until 8,000 years ago, most of southern and central Finland was covered by the Baltic Sea. Today Finland is still growing as the sea retreats about 4 sq. miles (10 sq km) every year.


Even though Finland is so far north, the climate is not as harsh as you might think. Winds from the west blow air warmed by the Gulf Stream to keep the temperatures from becoming much more severe than in areas that straddle the US-Canada border.

Finland's seasons are distinct: long, cold winters - longer and colder in the north - and warm, bright summers. In the deepest winter, the sun never clears the horizon in the northern part of Finland. On the brightest of days, you can see a pink rim around the horizon. Snow falls from around Christmas to the end of March in the south, from mid September to late April in Lapland. The blanket of snow helps brighten the dark winter days.

In summer, the sun never sets in the north. This nightless summer lasts more than 70 days. This is long enough for the land to become lush and productive. Wild berries and mushrooms fill the forests and fields throughout the country. Many people grow vegetable gardens.

Agriculture, Industry, and Natural Resources

After World War II Finland had to repay the USSR for damage it had done during the war. At the time, Finnish industry was not very highly developed. But Finns hate to owe money, and the industry that developed to pay the war debt has carried Finland into the last half of the 20th century in fine form. Finnish industry is well known for the high quality of its products. Where many economically developing countries such as South Korea and China specialize in mass production, Finnish industry is known for products designed and made to order.

Finland supplies its own needs in dairy products, meat, and, in good harvest years, grain. Finland grows potatoes and other produce, but it must import large amounts of fruits and vegetables. Farms in Finland are small, but they usually have lots of timber that improve farmers' winter earnings.

Over 70% of Finland is forest land, and wood industries are very important to the economy. Pulp and paper, construction materials, and furniture are the main industries. Over 80% of what the forest industries produce is sent to foreign countries, providing nearly half of Finland's export earnings. Finland supplies 10% of the world's needs in forest products. Related to the forest industry is the manufacturing of forest industry machinery. Finnish engineering workshops have supplied about 20% of the world's paper-making machines.

Heavy industry is powered by hydroelectric power. Hydroelectrically-powered plants produce lumber-cutting machines, spinning machines, cruise ships, ice-breaking ships, construction crames, oil rigs, electric generators, and cables. Many of these machines and ships are exported. Finnish ships are common in the Gulf waters of Mexico and the southern US, often flying Norwegian flags.

Especially important to the economy are exports of chemicals, textiles, and arts and crafts. Marimekko and Fiskars are Finnish companies that now have manu-facturing plants in the US. Marimekko makes textiles, especially clothes and bed linens. Fiskars is known for the high quality of its knives and scissors.

Finland has a variety of minerals, but they do not contribute very much to the economy because they are being depleted. Finland's 10 operating mines will likely be closed by 1990. Two are iron ore mines. Other minerals are copper, nickel, zinc, chrome, and cobalt.

Sports and Recreation


Finns take very seriously the need to have leisure time. All workers have at least four weeks of vacation a year. Most work places have facilities for recreation, so workers make exercise a part of their day. Every town, no matter how small, has a sports field that is used throughout the year.

Most Finns spend at least part of their summer in the country. Many have a summer cottage known as a mökki (or stuga). Some of these places are just one room, or tupa, with a sauna near the water. Finns regard the peace and solitude of the forests and lakes as necessary for building character and finding content-ment. Even Finns who live in the country often have another place to which they can retreat and where they can live more simply for a time. This tradition dates to the old days when the whole family, including grandparents, servants, and animals, moved to barn lofts for the annual cleaning of the house.


Sports in Finland are non-professional. Teams for all levels of skill exist in a wide variety of sports, and clubs and town recreation centers make sports available to everybody. Finland is not a country where sports are mainly for young men. Just as everybody must eat to grow and stay well, Finns believe everyone must have physical exercise to stay healthy.

Favorite summer sports include jogging, swimming, cycling, and soccer. The national sport is pesäpallo, or Finnish baseball. In pesäpallo the pitcher stands in front of the batter and throws the ball straight up in the air. As it comes down, the batter has to hit it and run.

Internationally Finns are known for their participation in motor sports. Young children build and race K-karts, small cars like go-carts. Children from six to fifteen take part in competitions throughout the country. Finnish rally and Formula I drivers are well known at racing tracks all over the world, including North America, where they have won races in Detroit and Toronto. In 1982, Keke Rosberg of Finland became the World Grand Prix champion.

The most popular sport in Finland is skiing. Finns learn to ski before they start school and continue long after retirement. The Finlandia Ski Marathon is a 75-km (46.5-mile) race between Hämeenlinna and Lahti. Over 13,000 skiers take part each year. Hockey and other forms of ice skating are also popular spectator and participant sports. Even in the summer Finns train for hockey at indoor rinks.

The Sauna - a Fact of Finnish Life

The sauna, or steam bathhouse, has always been part of Finnish life. Here in North America we associate the sauna with sports, and most saunas are located in sports facilities. In Finland the sauna has a much more important meaning. Ancient poetry portrays it as a holy place. Nature healers performed healing rituals there. Babies were born in saunas because the saunas were clean. While people in the rest of Europe were dousing themselves with perfumed oils to cover up the odors caused by not bathing, Finns were building and using saunas in the belief that being clean was necessary for good health.

The word sauna is one of few Finnish words to be recognized and used in many other languages. In earlier days, the sauna was always the first building the settlers constructed. Here they lived with their animals until they built the animal shed. After the animal shed they built their barns. Only then - last of all - did they build their own houses! Until then the whole family lived in the sauna. Here they nursed sick peoople, cured meat, and washed clothes. Even after their house was built, the sauna remained the spiritual center of the home.

The oldest saunas were dug out of the side of a hill 2,000 years ago. Today Finns can buy saunas that they can put together in a few hours. Every house has one, and even apartment buldings often have a sauna in every apartment. If not in each apartment, the buildings have saunas for every four apartments. Dinner guests are often invited to take saunas with their hosts. Children take saunas with their parents until they are responsible enough to be left alone safely with the hot stove.

Here is how a sauna works: Traditionally a wood fire was built in a stove in the sauna. The stove heated the bathhouse, often taking several hours. Today the stove may be electric. People taking a sauna pour water from a ladle onto the hot rocks to create steam. They then sit on the wooden benches built into the sides of the sauna, occasionally pouring water on themselves and whisking their skin with branches. Men and women take saunas together. Children, too. The heat from the sauna relaxes the muscles and the mind and purifies the skin.

After a sauna, people take either a cool shower or, if they are in the country, a swim in the lake. Even in winter, Finns find a plunge in cold water refreshing and invigorating. An old Finnish saying tells you just how important people think the sauna is: "If the sauna cannot help a man, death is near at hand."


Helsinki is a city with 485,600 people. The Russians made it the capital of Finland in 1812, when it had only about 4,000 people. It is a clean and bright city. The old part of the city is surrounded on three sides by water. Helsinki is a lively city all year round. In late summer every year, the Helsinki Festival offers all kinds of music, theater, films, and art fairs. Throughout the year, citizens of the city shop for fresh vegetables at the open market in the South Harbor.

Buildings in Finland have been traditionally made of wood. As a result, many towns have been destroyed many times over by fires. Only fortresses and churches were built of materials that would withstand fires - hard granite. Many of these buildings are in Helsinki. Most famous of them is the Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Squarre. Helsinki is also the site of buildings designed by its inter-nationally known architects. The conference and concert center known as Finlandia Hall was designed by Alvaar Aalto.

Helsinki is a city of broad streets and low buildings. Like most Finnish cities it was built on a grid plan. Here in the US and Canada, where our cities are quite new and many grew after the advent of motor-powered transportation, we are used to wide streets. European cities traditionally have very narrow streets, however. Finland's cities have often been rebuilt after being destroyed by fires. Now, with wider streets, fires are less likely to spread. The houses often face inward, with their backs to the street and fronts to a common courtyard.

Finns in North America

The first Finns to come to North America settled in Delaware in the 1600s. Another group came for the California gold rush in 1849. By 1892, more than 36,000 Finns had settled here, mostly in the upper midwestern states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The climate and land of this area reminded them of their native Finland. Between 1900 and 1910, about 58,000 more Finns came and half of them settled around Lake Superior. Today this region is home to more than one-third of the Finns who have come here.

Finns who came to the United States and Canada tended to settle in areas where other Finns had come before. Partly they did this because they were looking for land like the one they had left. But mostly they settled with other Finns because their language is so different from that of other Europeans that they could not communicate with anyone except other Finns. Two-thirds of the Finns in the new land became farmers. Sometimes they worked in cities to save money to buy land. But as soon as they could they were in the country building first a sauna and then distinctly Finnish style barns and houses.

Glossary of Useful Finnish Terms

  • Hyvästi (hih-VAHS-tee)
    • good-bye
  • Kalevala (KAH-lay-vah-lah)
    • the mythological and historical poem of Finland based on ancient folk songs and tales collected in the 19th century
  • Kiitos (KEE-ee-tos)
    • thank you
  • Kota (KOH-tah)
    • a Lapp, a Sami, dwelling. It looks something like a teepee. It is made from reindeer skins and is portable, being taken from one place to another as the Sami follow the reindeer herds.
  • Mökki (MEH-kee)
    • a summer home
  • Sami (SAW-mee)
    • Laplanders or the Lappish language. In Finnish, the Sami people are called Saamelaanen (SAH-meh-lie-nen)
  • Sampo (SAHM-poh)
    • an iron object forged by the mythical ironsmith IImarinen; told about in the Kalevala
  • Sauna (SOW-nah)
    • a Finnish bathhouse where a wood or electric stove heats rocks to warm the bathhouse.
  • Tupa (TOO-pah)
    • traditionally a multi-purpose room. It was used for cooking, baking, eating, weaving, sewing, tool-making, repairs and sleeping.

From FINLAND by Tamiko Bjener

June Pelo

Back | To the beginning | till början | alkuun | Finlander

Personal tools
blog comments powered by Disqus