Many people’s idea of Finland in winter is of dark, cold snowy days when there is hardly any light at all. Many others love the idea of coming to Helsinki, this eternally cheerful little city, and enjoying the delights of the Christmas festive season – including the famous Helsinki Christmas markets.
Christmas is a time to get wrapped up nice and warm and venture out into the wonderfully illuminated and extravagantly decorated streets of Helsinki to buy yourselves some unqiue Christmas gifts and enjoy some scrumptious hospitality.
Helsinki Christmas markets get underway right at the beginning of December with the Women’s Christmas Market, held in the Vanha Satama buidling in the Katajanokka area of the city. You’ll find some really unusual craft gifts here – all made by Finnish women artisans. You can also stock up on vital ingredients for the Christmas period such as tree decorations – and fur ear muffs!
The most celebrated of all the Helsinki markets at this time of the year is the one held at the well-known Esplanade Park in the centre of the city, the St Thomas Christmas Market. This takes place for about two weeks in the middle of December and well over 120 stalls line the paths of the park. Stall holders come from all over Finland, not just from Helsinki itself. In addition to the Christmas gifts, decorations and memorabilia at the market, there is also an abundance of other hand-made items; many made from fur, iron wood – and chocolate. You will even be able to buy ice skates or sledges at this fascinating market. An extra treat in Esplanade Park, as at all Helsinki Christmas markets, is the wonderful array of foodstuffs available to either buy to take home or, indeed, eat whilst you’re here. Traditional Finnish festive foods such as roasted sugar nuts, Gingerbread Figures and succulent star-shaped pastries, filled with a deliciously thick plum jam, are the favourites – as well as the ubiquitous herring, of course.
Held at the same time as the St Thomas Market is the indoor market in the Old Student Hall. This is especially known for its food delicacies; the salmon, wild boar and various pâtés are notably appealing.
The whole of Helsinki joins in with the Christmas celebrations. The main shopping street, Aleksanterinkatu, is filled with festive cheer and Christmas Street (Joulukatu) is officially opened with a visit from Santa Claus himself at the beginning of the market season. Shops will have Christmas window displays and special events and many restaurants offer seasonal menus. You’ll find some wonderful venison, tasty rosolli (beetroot and herring salad) and some spicy sausage spcialties. For Christmas drinks, the locals love the traditional Glögi, which is a spicy mulled wine, and the specially brewed Winter Beers. Hot chocolate devotees will particularly love the Finnish version – given that little extra magic with a touch of cognac.
During December, visitors to Helsinki will also be treated to a host of other special events. These include a wide range of Christmas concerts, operatic and ballet productions and top class ice hockey matches. Helsinki, a city always well-known for the quality and variety of its night life, becomes even livelier and more welcoming during the whole of December.
So, yes Finland is cold and dark during the winter. But the warmth and sparkle of the Helsinki Christmas markets and this scintillating city mean that it is a wonderful place to go for a short break. Part of the fun is the wrapping yourself up and venturing out – and you’ll get some spectacular photographs.