Best moments to see the Aurora Borealis in Finland

Not long ago we talked about the best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland, map included. In that list of places Lapland was the top choice, since it’s the northernmost area of the country and lies north of the Arctic Circle. Nonetheless, knowing the best places alone is not sufficient to hunt down the Aurora Borealis. There is another factor just as important as the location: knowing the best moments to see the Aurora Borealis in Finland.

Aurora Borealis over Finland

Can’t I see the Aurora Borealis throughout the whole year?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Since Finland is a Nordic country its winters have few hours of daylight. In some areas of Lapland, people spend several weeks in total darkness, with only a little bit of twilight visible over the horizon (they call it Kaamos, the polar night). In the same way, summers in Finland have few hours of darkness, and in some places you can see the Midnight Sun for weeks.

When can I see the Aurora Borealis in Finland and Lapland? The best months

As we mentioned, besides the need for a high latitude to see the Northern Lights, you should also be in Finland when there are several night-time hours. But to summarize briefly, we can say the following: between the end of April and the beginning of August there is simply too much light.

In the next image, from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, we can see the number of nights with Aurora Borealis divided between the total number of Auroras per year. The blue line show us the Auroras that can be seen from the Polar Arctic Circle to the Arctic Ocean (the northernmost part of Finland). On the other hand, the red line shows the Aurora Borealis that happen from the South of Finland to the Arctic Ocean: they are more widespread since there are some hours of night during the summer in South Finland.

Best moments to see the Aurora Borealis
When to see the Aurora Borealis: it all depends on the month.

The best moments to see the Aurora Borealis are shown in the graphic. We can see that between August and September they are already visible. In October, November and December – the Autumn months – the northern lights season is already in full swing. The winter months – January, February and March – are perhaps the best ones, but it’s also important to remember that the cold is often too intense. In April, the Aurora Borealis start to fade, since there are too many daylight hours again. In May, June and July they can’t be seen at all, since there are almost no hours of night.

One must take into account that the weather in Finland is very cloudy. Last winter – three months, 90 days – there were only 50 hours of light in total. On the equinoxes (the moment between Summer and Autumn in September, and the moment between Winter and Spring in March) the Aurora Borealis are easier to spot, since the skies tend to be very clear and almost cloudless. The Northern lights take place at a high altitude in Earth’s atmosphere, and therefore happen above the clouds.

In the same way, the light of the Aurora Borealis is actually quite dim. They can’t be seen properly if there is light – for instance, city lights – around. Even a full and bright moon can affect their visibility.

When to see the Aurora Borealis? The best hours

Statistically – and this is why Finland has a research center for the Northern Lights in Sodankylä, Lapland – it is easier to see Aurora Borealis at certain times.

This graph shows us when to see Aurora Borealis on a given day: between 11pm and 12pm is the best time.

The best hours to see Northern Lights

Do you have some other advice on the best moments to see the Aurora Borealis? If you have seen it before, at what time and during which month was it?



Crayfish party – the end of summer in Finland

I recall my first crayfish party, two years ago. My host was a great friend from Sweden, where this kind of party originates. Later on, I learned that it is also a Finnish tradition, and that it’s something that simply can’t be missed if you want to have a self-respecting Finnish summer experience. What’s the party about? Read on.

Decoration for the Crayfish party
Decoration for the Crayfish party Source.

The crayfish party: what is it about

The crayfish party it is a celebration devoted to the pleasure of eating and drinking in Finland and other Nordic countries in Summer. Originally from Sweden, it was introduced in Finland by Swedish-speaking Finns.

The time of year for celebrating at crayfish parties starts in late-July and the parties can take place until the end of October. Even so, the most popular time is August and September.

The aim of the party is to celebrate the last days of summer surrounded by family and friends. Such is its popularity that on these dates, shops bring in many decoration accessories portraying crayfish: tablecloths, napkins, aprons, plates… You can see an example from the party I attended, including funny-looking party hats (also a classic part of the event). The picutres of the party, crayfish in hand, I should probably keep for myself.

A table decorated for the crayfish party

Table manners and how to eat at the crayfish party

Normal table etiquette goes out the window because of the nature of the main dish. On the table there should be enough crayfish for everyone, and they are prepared boiled but already cold. They are accompanied by fresh dill and are supposed to be eaten with your fingers – thus there is also a great need for napkins. Making some noises while eating is not an etiquette problem, since it is necessary to get every tasty bit out of the crayfish.

There should be also plenty of bread, and an optional salad or soup as an entrée. Good desserts after the salty crayfish are some pie or ice cream. Regarding the selection of drinks – also a great part of the crayfish party, I assure you – they are ice-cold schnapps (there should be plenty) along with some beer, wine and water.

Something you discover at the crayfish parties is that people drink more than they eat, since eating crayfish isn’t easy and there is not a lot of meat in them. On the other hand, the availability of the drinks and the ease of getting them down makes them much easier to have in comparison. And, after all, we are in the North of Europe: schnapps are pretty much mandatory at great events like this.

About the location, these crayfish parties are celebrated outdoors (remember that it celebrates the last good days of the summer). Reasons to have them inside are the unpleasant – and huge – Finnish mosquitoes, or the eventual rain.

My experience at a crayfish party was great. There were people from 5 nationalities at my table, and we got to enjoy plenty of food and fantastic crayfish-like accessories; my favorite: a paper-made sun with a happy face on it, a true decorative item of any crayfish party. We drank the traditional Swedish drink, Aquavit, and we all sung the official crayfish party song. A great evening, and a great Swedish and Finnish tradition.

Crayfish party
Tastiness at the crayfish party: . Source.

Have you ever been invited to a crayfish party? How was it?



Sisu: a.k.a Finnish power

The first time I heard the word sisu, a word I heard only a few more times while in Finland, it was at lunch with some Finnish friends. It was a long day and after saying goodbye, both the word and the concept slipped my mind. The same friends said the same word to me again a few weeks later and I had to ask: what is sisu? My friends thought about it for a second and told me: “it’s Finnish power“.

What is sisu

My Finnish friends, I remembered later, said they were proud of me because I did not do it the easy way and rode my bike through the whole winter, which reached -32 degrees Celsius at its coldest point. Since I am Spanish I am no good at being at a given place at a given time, I’d probably have missed the buses and would have had to wait long for the next one in -30 anyway. There was no other way for me but to bike.

But my friends told me I also need to have Sisu to brave the elements. We looked the word up in the Spanish-Finnish dictionary, but the definition just didn’t stick in my mind. What they told me, though, is that it was related to words like “bravery”, “courage” or “determination in adversity”. Since then I knew I had to write something about the fascinating idea of sisu.

Going further with some research, I checked out what Wikipedia says about it: and, of course, it says that it’s a word with no easy translation. One of the translations it offers is to “act rationally against adversity”, but I’m not sure that that’s the same as riding a bike through an entire Finnish winter.

Sisu in pills
You can take sisu in pills.

Sisu is important in Finland, so much that many brands are named after the term, for instance the Sisu sweets in the photo above, or “Sisu Trucks” (that’s what comes up first in Google Images for the word “Sisu”), or the nationalistic organization of Suomen Sisu (official site (they claim to defend the Finnish culture against intercultural mixing).

Another concept that the definition of sisu brings up is “to stand stoically against adversity”. Sisu would then be the skill to finish a task against the impossible twists of destiny. Not a bad word – or quality – as we can see.

Not all sisu is good sisu

Even though its main meaning is a positive one, Sisu can also be a bad thing. “Bad Sisu” (paha sisu, en finnish language) means malice combined with rudeness and relentlessness: putting effort towards hurting someone, or towards vengance.

Some people say that the Finnish culture can be summarized with “The three Ss”: Sisu, sauna and Sibelius (the Finnish classical composer). Some people, though, replace Sibelius for Samliakki.

After arriving home. The temperature outside:-20 degrees
I rode my bike for 30 minutes in -20 degree weather that evening. Was it sisu or not?


Have you heard about sisu before? Do you have a story where it plays a big role? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.



Sahti, the traditional Finnish beer

Shopping for something to drink in the Finnish Alko – the state-owned shop for alcoholic beverages – is usually expensive. That’s why “social drinking” in Finland doesn’t really happen the same way as in other countries. But with the growing popularity of the microbreweries these days, it’s a good time to talk about a true classic: the traditional Finnish beer, Sahti.

Sahti, traditional finnish beer
A pint of Sahti. Source.

What is Sahti

The beer expert and beer writer Michael Jackson (no relation to the deceased King of Pop) defined the Finnish beer Sahti as “the only medieval beer that survived in Western Europe”. This Finnish beer is drunk today in the same way as it was in the Finnish inns during the XIV century. Sahti also holds the EU seal of “Protected Geographical Status”, which is similar to the Denominaciones de Orígen (D.O.) labels for excellent Spanish wines, or similar labels for Bavarian beer, Italian balsamic vinegar, and many others.

The Sahti is the traditional Finnish beer. It is brewed from different kinds of grains – with and without malt – and includes most of the usual grains used for beer: rye, barley, oats and wheat.

To these grains, one must add juniper berries and hops for flavour. Barm, or even normal yeast, is used during the fermenting process. All of these ingredients come together to create the classic Finnish beer, with a distinct dark colour. The taste of the final product, after fermentation, is somewhat similar to banana, and the alcohol percentage is relatively high for a beer, at around 8%.

Although it can be brewed at home, there also exist some commercial brands of Sahti. They can be found in the Alko or served in bars, as the one on the following image. Once the Sahti is produced – at home or professionally – it must be kept cold in the fridge to make sure it doesn’t lose its distinct flavours or properties.

Sahti, Finnish beer, in professional version
A professional bottle of Sahti. You can see the juniper berries on the tag, and the dark color. Source.

Sahti recipe: how to make your own Finnish Beer

The most popular months to brew this unique Finnish beer are during the summer. You’ll need patience and some time to make a good batch of Sahti. These are the ingredients and the recipe, adapted (i.e., converted to grams and Celsius degrees), from BrewingTV.

Targeted Sahti volume: 15 litres

Types of grains – converted to grams

  • 4 kg pilsner malt
  • 1.5 kg Munich dark malt
  • 0,8 kg rye malt

Other ingredients:

– Some juniper twigs (with berries on them)
– Yeast (1 cube of fresh baking yeast)

Cooking the Sahti.
Cooking the Sahti: the traditional Finnish beer. Source.

Process

– Mash the different grains in three different steps, with 30 minutes pauses between steps, at 50°, 60° and 70° Celsius.

– Pour the resulting mash into another container, and place the juniper twigs in the original container.

– Pour the mash back into the original receptacle and remove the strain out the solid grains from it. Stir until target consistency is reached.

– Heat the mash in its container at 75°C and leave it on the fire for 20 minutes. Keep adding juniper twigs during this process. The Finnish beer will soon be ready.

– Cool the mash to under 20°C and add the yeast.

– Let it rest for some time to allow the fermentation process to run its course and bottle without the sugar that was generated.

What do you think? Will you try making some traditional Finnish beer? If you’ve already had a chance to try some Sahti, what did you think?




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