12 ideas for Finnish Christmas presents

Presents, presents. If you haven’t sent your letter to Santa Claus, and if you like Finland as much as we do, these 12 ideas for typically Finnish Christmas presents can be a good starting point.

All-Typical Finnish Christmas presents

1.- Fiskars orange Scissors

The Fiskars scissors are a Finnish icon of design, and something that pretty much every Finn has at home. They are so well made that they last for years, and can be sharpened and re-sharpened. In fact, they are so solid that the only difference between the new ones and the old ones is the faded orange tone, as in the following photo. They cost around €17.

Finnish Christmas Presents: Fiskars scissors

2.- A Moomin Cup or something Arabia

The Arabia brand is a classic in Finland. They make many types of ceramic objects and utensils. The most common gift from Arabia is a Moomin mug, with a price per unit of about €20. There are so many different models with great illustrations that I cannot name my second favorite, but I can definitely say that the one I own is my favorite – this one.

My Moomin Arabia mug

3.- Lakka liquor or a bottle of Koskenkorva

If you want to give away something this christmas with flavor and character, go for some of the best Finnish liquors. The Lakka – cloudberry in Finnish – liquor is a typical drink from Lapland, while the Koskenkorva (a type of bränvinn, similar to Vodka) is a classic from all over the country. They have a price tag between €10 and €15.

Lakka liquor
Source (CC: by)

4.- Marimekko

The products of the textiles and design house Marimekko are easy to spot for their bright colors and bold shapes. Every Finnish person has at least one (the average item count is probably quite high), and I have a Marimekko t-shirt that I wear with pride (€60). Even so, you can still find something small from this brand for a few Euros.

Marimekko t-shirt

5.- iittala

If the brands above specialize in textiles, ceramic and objects, iittala is specialized in glass design. The famous architect and designer Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino Aalto made designs for this brand, and they are always a great gift. For instance, this one on the picture: the Aalto vase.

An Aalto Vase, from iittala

6.- Salmiakki

Salmiakki is the strangest flavor in Finland. You either hate it or you love it, there is nothing in between. Salmiakki is a little gift, easy to transport in your luggage if you have been on a visit to Finland, but full of flavor. This black liquorice, extremely Finnish, will definitely test your Finnishness.

A bit of Salmiakki

7.- Something Fazer

If you already know the taste of the Salmiakki Liquorice is not for your loved ones, or you are not sure, you can bet on chocolates. Fazer is the chocolate brand born in Finland that sells and tastes the best. Its Fazer Blue chocolate was voted by the Finns themselves as one of the most Finnish objects of all time. There are infinite variations of Fazer chocolates and other sweets made from this brand.

Fazer = chocolate
Source (CC: by-sa)

8.- Some Angry Birds merchandise

Angry birds has a place in our hearts between love and hate. They have brought us hours of fun, but maybe too many. The company that has made all this possible and has licensed thousands of products that carry the Angry Birds brand is called Rovio and is Finnish. This is doubly good: you can give away something that someone needs (a new fun t-shirt, notebooks, and so on) and you can do it in true Finnish style at the same time.

Angry Birds

9.- A book from a Finnish author

Whether it’s the classic Kalevala, which tells us more about the Finnish Mythology, or a book of fiction, a book is always a great Christmas gift. Some titles that will rock as presents would be the biggest selling book written by a Finn, Shinee The Egyptian” by Mika Waltari; a book from one of the most beloved of Finnish authors, Arto Paasilinna (The Year of the Hare, The Howling Miller…); or finally some children’s books from Tove Jansson featuring the Moomins. Any of these would be a good choice.

The Kalevala

10 .- Kalevala Jewelry

If you want to go high-end with a Christmas gift and present that special person on your life with jewellery, this can also have a Finnish touch. In this case, the Kalevala Jewelry (Kalevala Koru) should be your choice. Rings, necklaces, bracelets and other ornaments can be found under this brand, inspired by old Nordic and Scandinavian themes, as well as the Kalevala book.

Kalevala Jewelry

11.- A Jopo bike

The Jopo bikes have DNA and design that are 100% Finnish, and with the current world trend to leave the car behind and take your bike everywhere (a trend I’m following as well), it would make a great gift. They aren’t as cheap as they used to be, but they’ve also become more stylish in return; you can get a Jopo from about 400 euro and give somebody a super Finnish gift.

A Jopo bike

12.- A Nokia phone

Before the phone division of the Finnish phone company Nokia transfers to Microsoft you can still get a 100% Finnish phone. And what better choice for this than a great phone from the Nokia Lumia branch: I have one and I love it. But if you want something else, Nokia is not only about phones: historically they have also sold a lot of different products, like rubber boots, wheels for cars and VHS players.

Smartphone Nokia Lumia

What’s your favorite Finnish Christmas present from the list? Do you miss a Finnish gift that you especially like?



Helsinki’s Seurasaari Christmas Trail

The Seurasaari Island is a museum-island full of nature near Helsinki’s center. It’s a very popular sight, and checking it out is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Helsinki. But during the Christmas season there is an extra incentive to pay a visit: the Seurasaari Christmas Trail.

The tradition of the Seurasaari Christmas Trail

Bus 24 from the center of Helsinki takes you to Seurasaari all year round, but the next 15th of December it takes you to an event that only happens one Saturday per year: its traditional Christmas Trail.

Seurasaari Christmas Trail
Saying hello to Santa. This and the rest of the images of the post are courtesy of connectirmeli

And I say traditional because 2013 will be its 18th edition, according to their official website. For whoever wants to join, it will take place on the 15th of December (UPDATE 2014: this year it will be on Sunday 14th of December, from 12 to 17h), and is a free entry event for everyone (as it always has been), although it is of course especially oriented towards kids and their families. The people who make this possible are volunteers, and the event has hosted up to 15,000 guests in the past.

What can you do and what can you see on the Seurasaari Christmas Trail

The Finnish name of the Christmas Trail is Joulupolku. The idea is to plunge into a Christmas fantasy world, bringing back an idea of Christmas from a time when consumerism wasn’t a part of it, but the messages of love, peace, and togetherness with the family were.

Christmas Trail
The Christmas Trail is guided by candles.

There are plenty of different things to do along the Trail. Everywhere there are volunteers dressed as elfs (in Finnish, Tonttu) to greet you and your family, and to bring out everyone’s true Christmas spirit. Some Joulupukkis (the Finnish name of Santa Claus) will be there too. Also, the setting for this event couldn’t be better: the buildings of this museum-island will be decorated with classic Christmas motifs. The boys and girls that so please can bring their own ornaments and place them on the trees.

A house in Seurasaari
A little building, decorated.

There will be a straw-labyrinth and a one-horse-open sleigh (as the reindeer is more a Lapp animal), an “adventure trail”, a tent where someone will be reading Christmas tales, a Nativity scene, sleighs, places to sing songs and free Christmas pudding for the kids equipped with their own bowl and spoon.

More information about this year’s trail and program is already available on the event’s website. Not bad, right?

Families on the Helsinki Island
The Christmas Trail is a family event.

To summarize: I like it

Why do I like this Helsinki initiative? Because it is, as they say, an alternative to the consumerist fest. The Christmas attractions of the Finnish Lapland (the Santa Park or the Santa Claus Village, for instance) are great, but its location might make it challenging for many travellers to reach. This Christmas Trail, on the other hand, with all of its Christmas spirit and great location, the family theme, and its free nature make it – for me – an awesome option.

Elfs, volunteering
Some volunteer elfs.

Have you been to the Seurasaari Christmas Trail? Would you like to go this time around? Don’t forget your mittens!



The “Lapland Express”: a Helsinki-Rovaniemi High Speed Train

Traveling by train has its charm. In the era between traveling by horse and by plane, trains dominated the transport of people and goods (they still do, of course, but mainly for short routes).

There are some trains that stick in the collective imagination. For instance the Orient Express, that makes the link between Paris and Istanbul; The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, whose fictionalized version is presented in Wes Anderson’s movie “The Darjeeling Limited”; and the Polar Express (from the movie of the same title) that takes kids to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.

A train just like the latter, but definitely much more real, is the one that we’ll talk about today: the Lapland Express.

A train in Finland
A train in Finland. This one would take you to Kotka. Source (CC:by)

The connections between Helsinki and Rovaniemi

Traveling in a straight line, there are 704 kilometers between Helsinki and Rovaniemi. The shortest road route between these two cities is 827 kilometers. It is definitely a long distance to reach the capital of the Finnish Lapland from the capital of Finland, and we also have to take into account that there is a lot more Lapland north of Rovaniemi.

But in the north of Finland and Lapland is where the best places to see the Northern Lights are. Plus, each winter Rovaniemi turns into the World Capital of Christmas, since Santa Claus lives there.

So, when planning our trip to Lapland, besides the option of taking a flight, starting this November we can head there on take a high speed train between Rovaniemi and Helsinki.

The Lapland Express train: High Speed between Helsinki and Rovaniemi

Even though the VR – the state-owned railway company of Finland – didn’t give this train line this name, in my opinion they should have… because it sounds awesome.

The Lapland Express
A train like the Lapland Express. Source (CC:by)

This train doesn’t take you to the North Pole like the Polar Express, the one that we mentioned at the beginning, does. This one goes right to the Arctic Circle (in this YLE article they called it the “Arctic Express“), and is one of the fastest trains in Finland. This, though, might not be saying a lot: it will cover the route between Rovaniemi and the capital of Finland in 8 hours, which is definitely an improvement over the 14 hours that the normal train takes.

These trains – Pendolino models – of the Lapland Express will reach 220 km/hour and at first there will only be one per week per route. The Helsinki-Rovaniemi train leaves on Saturday at 09:30 and arrives at 17:45. The train back, Rovaniemi-Helsinki, leaves on Sunday around 15:00 and reaches the capital at around midnight. In any case, and to be sure of the timetables and be aware of the possible changes, check out the VR trains website.

Perfect for a weekend visit to Joulupukki (the Finnish name for Father Christmas) and to head back to Helsinki, this new train link is definitely one of the many things to see on a trip to Finland.

What is your recommended way to travel to Lapland? Have you paid a visit to Joulupukki yet?



Snow Drifting: my experience drifting with cars in Finland

The time has come, yet another year. The first snowflakes have already fallen and there are less hours of light during the daytime, so every car in Finland now has to sport winter tires. It is time to enhance security… and maybe do some snow drifting.

Some winters ago I took a car trip with my Finnish friends. If I remember correctly, we went to practice some cross-country skiing in the outskirts of Joensuu, on a cold and sunny day. After some hours of skiing, and having fallen over many times in the snow – skiing doesn’t come naturally to me – it was time to head back to the city. But a surprise awaited me on the way back.

A car with winter tires, ready for some snow drifting.
Ready for some snow drifting. Fuente.

Snow drifting with a car in Finland: pure fun

What we did on the way back from our trip was one of the things I did in Finland that made me the happiest: getting behind the wheel of a Volvo on a clearing and starting to drift in the snow. It felt as if I was a driver in the Rally of Finland.

I have rented a car a couple of times in Finland – for instance to visit Koli, one of the national parks of Karelia, during the Ruska time – but never when the roads were covered with snow. Also, snow drifting with a rented car might not be the best of ideas.

And this is another reason I was really surprised: going snow drifting wasn’t my idea nor was it expected. We were on our way back to Joensuu when my Finnish friends decided take a detour, stop the car on a clearing, and ask me “Have you ever done snow drifting”? Having never ever driven a car in snow before, I of course said no.

They started the car and started to carve up the snow with the car’s thick winter tires. “Your turn”, they said a few minutes later.

That day I decided to put the camera aside and just focus on the experience, but now I miss having a video of it. Nonetheless, I can tell you that it was more or less like this.

And it was very fun. 15 minutes of speeding up, turning the wheel, use the hand break, and start again in every possible way I could come up with, all over virgin snow while hearing the engine roar. And the seats in the car were classic Nordic car seats: they were heated! Altogether it was an amazing experience that I can definitely recommend.

Learn to snow drift with a Finnish champion: Juha Kankkunen

This kind of activity is also on the rise in Finland: Rally champion Juha Kankkunen has started his own snow rally experience company, where he and his team can teach you to drive powerful cars and go snow drifting like a pro. This and other snow driving activities are listed here, and you can see Juha Kankkunen driving on snow in the video below. What an experience it must be!

Have you gone snow drifting? If you are in Finland this winter, I do recommend it. A lot.




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