Wife Carrying World Championship in Finland

“Someone’s got to invent it, and it was the Finns”. A sentence that is maybe being said too often, regarding the number of eccentric summer championships that happen in Finland (which I think is one of the best things of the Finnish summer). We talk today about the Wife Carrying World Championship in Finland.

Finland had a group of runners called “The Flying Finns”, that dominated the middle and long distance tournaments in the 1920s (wiki), but not even they came up with this idea: A run that features carrying your wife (Eukonkanto, in Finnish).

Wife Carrying in Finland
Running carrying the wife. Source: All Hands Volunteers Photobank.

The origin of the Wife Carrying Race

The wife carrying run has a history, although a cloudy one since there are three theories. The first one is that there was a thief called Rosvo-Ronkainen who, along with his henchmen, used to enter little villages running, robbing them of food and women (still running, of course). The second theory says that long ago the young rural Finns tended to go to nearby villages and “steal” the women of the locals, marrying them soon afterwards. The last theory talks again of Rosvo-Ronkainen and his henchmen, who used to train running while carrying heavy sacks, a practice that with time evolved into this sport.

Although the Wife Carrying Championship that happens in Finland every year can be seen as a joke, the contenders really take it seriously (as if they were the Flying Finns themselves). The location of this race within Finland is in Sonkajärvi (map), and it has been going on since 1992 (and in 1997 it became a “World Championship”).

Rules of the Wife Carrying World Championship

Some of the most interesting rules are:

  • The official distance to run is 253.5 meters, with parts of gravel, grass and sand.
  • There must be two obstacles and a little water pool 1 meter deep.
  • The female part of the couple can be anyone, but she has to be older than 17 years and must wear a helmet.
  • The woman’s weight must be over 49 kilograms. If she weighs less, she should carry a backpack with weight until both, women and bag, weight at least 49.
  • If the woman falls, she should get in position again on the man’s back or arms.
  • The races feature 2 couples each time, so they can compete between each other as well.
  • There is only one category and the winner is the fastest.
  • The fee for participating is around 50€.
  • There is a second wife carrying race: Three men have to carry one woman in turns, and they must drink “the Wife Carrying official drink”. There are special prices for the funniest team, the best disguises and the strongest man.
  • There is another “sprint” edition: 100 meters, one water pool and 5 to 10 couples, passing 3 each time.

The winning couple of the Wife Carrying World Championship will win the equivalent of the female’s weight in beer.

In this video you can see the Wife Carrying Championship is in all its splendor:

Estonia and Finland are tied on the highest rank of the podium. Estonia used to dominate this race – the reason why the predominant style of wife carrying is the “Estonian Style”: The woman hangs upside down with the legs crossed around the man’s neck, and holding onto his waist – although in the last years the Finns caught up, especially the couple formed by Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen: Taisto is the eldest race winner – 45 years old -, he’s a lawyer, and he has won 10 medals in this competition. A total man.

What do you think, would you ever participate in this Wife Carrying World Championship? This year’s edition, 2014, will happen in Sonkajärvi, on the 4th and 5th of July.



Juhannus: Midsummer in Finland

Juhannus is closing up, and if you are in Finland, chances are that you already have a plan for what to do.

What is Juhannus?

Juhannus is the longest day of the year.

You can say that this is the second biggest holiday – head to head with Vappu – for the Finns, after Christmas.

White Nights.
The longest day of the year, Juhannus, looks exactly like this.

It is time to get payback for enduring a long, cold and dark winter – the ying and yang (you can see the spectacular difference of the amount of light between summer and winter in Finland in this time lapse video).

Juhannus is the name that the summer solstice gets in Finland, and it comes from St. John the Baptist (in Finnish he is called Juhannus). In other countries – like Spain – the name of the Saint is taken to mark this day as well (San Juan). So if you’ve heard this name but don’t know what the big deal is, read along.

What do you do on Juhannus? The good things about the midsummer in Finland

All the rules of Juhannus can be summarized in two words: Relax and enjoy. And this is the setting:


A Finnish cottage or “Mökki”. Source (CC: by-sa)

If we elaborate a bit, we can say that Midsummer in Finland is a public/bank holiday that happens around midsummer, concretely between the 20th and the 26th of June, on a Saturday. The previous day, midsummer eve, is the last day to shop for food and drinks for Juhannus, since the stores close at 1pm, and many people don’t work that day.

Once everyone is set up, it is time to drive up to a cottage, where the celebration usually happens. with friends and/or family. They gather together by the table to eat two dishes that are much loved by the Finns: New potatoes and sausages (along many other grilled foods, of course). Beer and liquors are passed around and, if you’re with friends instead of family, there will be a party.

The sauna – whatever its type – will also be a part of the celebration, since it probably will be always warm and it will receive many visits from time to time. Of course, being next to one of the thousand lakes, the preferred refreshment from the sauna won’t be a shower, but a quick (or not) dip in the lake. If you have birch trees around, make sure to cut some (Finns call this Vihta or Vasta) and hit yourself lightly with them.

Sauna near a lake
A sauna near a lake in Finland. It is a smoke sauna and it is working well. Source (CC: by-sa)

Many bonfires are lit by the lakes (it can also happen in other places, but lakeshores are the most popular bonfire spots), so if you’re in one and start seeing a bunch of them on the shore, worry not. The bonfires are also quite popular in the cities, so if you’re visiting Finland and don’t have the chance to be invited to a cottage, I recommend finding the nearest lake and looking for the bonfires.

My Juhannus highlight

But the best part, and what makes this holiday so worth it, in my opinion, is to witness the nightless night, and see the midnight sun or the white nights.

It is true that you can see the white nights (or the midnight sun, if you’re above the arctic circle) any night, but taking a day to go into the nature and enjoy it, apart from daily life and routines, this kind of focus is what I really love.

The slow living that happens on Juhannus is what makes us – me – realize the good things in life and come back invigorated.

Have you been in Finland during Juhannus? How did you like it and what did you do?



Mölkky: The Finnish summer game

First commandment of the Finnish summer: Spend as much time as you can outdoors.

This is a good rule, which can be carried out in many forms (we’ll bring some ideas in the near future); one of those forms is the “official” Finnish summer game: Mölkky.

What is Mölkky?

Mölkky is a very popular game, a bit like bowling, except you can play it anywhere – there is no special place to play it. It also relates to boccie, but Mölkky has characteristics that sets it apart from the other two games.

The basic gear to play this game is a series of pins with numbers written on the top of each one. There is also a pin that has no number.

Mölkky sticks

This is a set of Mölkky pins.

The numbered pins are like bows in bowling. You have to place them in a triangle and the number that appears on top of each stick tells you the number of points you get if you knock it over, but we’ll see the rules in detail in a second. You use the unnumbered pin to knock over the other pins.

The rules of Mölkky

The players throw the unnumbered pin in turns, trying to knock the other pins over.

The goal is to reach exactly 50 points, and this is how you count the points: If you knock over one pin, you get the number of points written on it. If you throw down two or more, you get as many points as pins you’ve knocked over.

Here you cam see someone throwing the unnumbered pin. This is Mölkky.

Mölkky

The first person who gets 50 points wins, and if someone goes over 50, he or she gets a penalty of 25 points less and has to continue from that number, trying to reach 50 again.

A man throwing mölkky

Mölkky was invented not long ago, in 1996, by Tuorengas, who owns the game name’s trademark. It is an educative consortium from the Lahti region, dealing mostly with reemployment and job searches.

The game has been picked up by university students and since 1996 its popularity has been on the rise. Each summer, a world championship of Mölkky is held in Lahti.

Playing winter Mölkky
Mölkky World Championship
A funny photo of a group of Finns disguised as Mölkky pins.

The game is also played in places like France, Australia or USA. Tuorengas has sold about 200.000 Mölkky sets – not a bad number.

Have you ever played Mölkky? How do you like the game?



Summer in Finland: Top 5 things to do

The summer in mid and northern Europe is a lot shorter than we’d like. The temperatures aren’t as high as in the south, but at least this is compensated with very long days. In order to get the batteries reloaded after the winter, let’s check out what’s the best that the summer in Finland has to offer.

1. Take advantage of outdoor activities

Summer in Finland is the time where, finally, Finns can do outdoor activities other than skiing (in any of its varieties) or playing hockey (Finland’s national sport).

Visiting one of the thousand lakes for hiking, sunbathing or swimming is one of those things you can do. In Finland you’re never too far away from a lake, and visiting one is an excellent way to spend a day. If you want to see a huge lake, go to Saimaa lake, the biggest one in Finland.

Koli: national park in Finland
Lake, trees, mountains. This is Koli, a National Park in Finland.

If we talk about lakes we should also talk about beaches. Some of them are nudist beaches, like Yyteri near Pori, which, together with its other non-nudist half, makes up for one of the largest beaches of the nordic countries.

If you are in the Helsinki area, check out the most visited beach of the city, Hietaniemi beach, which offers a lot of sport opportunities and is supervised by lifeguards during the summer in Finland. If you want to know all the beaches Finland has to offer, check out this list from the council of Helsinki.

Another outdoor option is to visit a Finnish forest. There is a law in Finland called “Everyman’s right”, which allows everyone to roam free throughout the forest, no matter who owns the land. That, of course, doesn’t only apply to locals: If you find yourself in a Finnish forest, roam free and get lost (but not a lot, take a GPS with you) without worrying. Nordic walking, the sport where you walk with ski-like sticks, can be practiced everywhere and is popular in Finland.

2. Attend one of the crazy competitions that happen during the summer in Finland

In summer the fun finally breaks loose and one of the ways Finns have found to channel these impulses are crazy competitions. For instance, in August you can go to the Air Guitar World Championship in Oulu or the Mobile Throwing Championship in Savonlinna.

Air guitar
The participants of the Air Guitar Championship in Oulu are real stars of the summer in Finland.

Other famous World Championships in Finland are the Mobile Sauna Championship, in the city of Teuva on Finland’s west coast in August and the Wife Carrying Championship in Sonkajärvi in July.

3. Attend a music festival or a city festival

Finland offers some great music festivals during the summer, for instance, Ilosarirock in Joensuu (held each July), the Tuska Metal festival held in Helsinki each June, or the Flow Festival of Helsinki in August. Plenty of options for dancing during the summer in Finland.

Leaving aside the usual music festivals (plenty of nights and days with lots of bands, camping, and pretty expensive beverages) as mentioned above, we can highlight the Savonlinna Opera Festival held each summer in Finland. Another famous music festival is Pori Jazz.

Summer in Finland: festivals
Go with the flow. Classic bad joke. Source (CC: by-sa).

Finally, if we talk about city festivals, the World Village Festival of Helsinki celebrated each May and the Helsinki Festival (official website) are great options.

4. Visit popular tourist sights

A lot of people love to go to Finland for tourism during the winter, to enjoy the northern lights (check the best moments and the best places to see them in Finland) or to visit Santa, but other, less cold-friendly people can enjoy the summer in Finland too.

You can visit theme parks such as the Angry Birds park in Tampere or the Moomin park in Naantali. If you want a hardcore version of a theme park, check out the Veijo Ronkonnen sculpture park as well: you’ll need courage for this one.

The Veijo Ronkkonen park
A strange park Mr Veijo Ronkkonen made, no doubt. Source.

From Finland you can quickly check out Russia, Sweden and Estonia too, thanks to the country’s ferry options. If you take a ferry from Helsinki, you can stay in St. Petersburg, a city I recommend, for up to three days without a visa. (The boat that makes this trip is the Princess Maria.) Stockholm is also pretty close, and Tallin is just a couple of hours away.

If, instead of man-made things, you prefer to appreciate the natural attractions of the summer in Finland, you should see the midnight sun over the arctic circle or the white nights under it. Two awe-inspiring phenomena for the ones who see them for the first time.

5. Participate in the traditions that the summer in Finland has to offer

Juhannus (we’ll talk in detail about it soon) is the preferred holiday of the summer in Finland for the Finns. It is the longest day of the year and that – because the difference in daylight hours between the summer and winter in Finland is so big – is an important occurence. On this day Finns light huge bonfires by the lakes and spend the day in their summer cottages.

A summer cabin in Finland
Summer in Finland = summer cottage. Source.

Spending the weekends in a cottage – most likely with one of the three types of sauna in Finland – is probably the best option to spend the summer with friends and family, since most likely the cottage will have next to it a forest and a lake. I am yearning for it already!

What’s your recommendation for the summer in Finland? What’s your favourite activity from the ones we listed here? Let’s use these days before the autumn and the Ruska take over.



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