No gifts, chocolates or flowers for your partner on St. Valentine’s day if you live in Finland. Almost.
It works like this in the Nordic (not Scandinavian) country: on Valentine’s day you’ll be looked at suspiciously if you make a great love gesture to your significant other. In Finland, the 14th of February has very little to do with crushes, couples or people in love. But nonetheless it has a special meaning.
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Caring gestures in Finland
The Finnish culture, unlike for instance Southern Europe’s, isn’t a touchy one. A kiss on the cheek when you meet somebody – something very common in many European countries – will make Finnish faces turn red and, suddenly, everyone will feel very uncomfortable. In the same way, hugs are reserved for people that already know each other and share a certain degree of intimacy.
This only happens in Finland among very good friends. Source (CC: by-nd).
This is not something bad, and it is something that you have to understand when you travel to Finland. Simply, they don’t do it that way and they never thought someone else would like to do it differently. It is a cultural characteristic of the Finns. A firm handshake will be the most common greeting amongst friends and during introductions.
It might be difficult in the beginning, but it will be internalised quickly. I always try to adapt my manners while traveling. Sometimes I am in doubt when I change countries and hesitate between hugs, kisses or handshakes. But the proper greeting is something that you get used to very quickly.
St. Valentine’s Day is Ystävänpäivä: Friendship day
All this takes us to the meaning of St Valentine’s day in Finland. This day, traditionally romantic in the rest of the world, is something different in this country. The notion of the 14th of February as a “special day” arrived quite late to Finland, compared to the rest of the world: it was listed as a “special” day for the first time in 1987.
This is NOT a popular present for Valentine’s day in Finland. Source (CC: by-nc-sa).
Ystävänpäivä is the Finnish name for St. Valentine’s day. It means “Friendship Day” in the Finnish Language, or “Day of the friends”.
What you do on this day in Finland is to give cards and small gifts to your friends, and to receive them as well. No heart-shaped things, but instead small things for everyone you care about, no matter up to which extent. It is not uncommon, nonetheless, that being presented with a gift will result in a blushed face. I mean, a public declaration of friendship? It might be too much for some shy Finns.
But if you’re in love don’t worry: thanks to the Hollywood influence, Valentine’s day is also a popular date to declare your love or to get married.
Or to go and hike with friends.
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Have you celebrated Valentine’s day in Finland? What do you think about the way they do it, the Ystävänpäivä?