If you are a foreigner living in the south of Finland, you probably have noticed that this week the whole country has slowed down, everything works at half speed, schools are closed and many people are gone away from their homes for a few days.
Next week, those who live in the areas of central Finland will perceive a similar situation and within two weeks will be the residents of the northernmost regions who experience a few days of holiday and relaxation.
This is due to the mid-winter holiday, known in Finland as the ‘ski holiday’ (in Finnish, hiihtoloma). This is a tradition deeply rooted in Finnish culture, which today also exists in other countries in Europe, but which in the land of snow and ice dates back to the 1920s.
A staggered celebration
The ski holiday is not a period linked to any specific dates throughout the country. Schools celebrate it in a staggered way in the different provinces and this year they go from mid-February in the southern areas to the second week of March in Lapland.
The tradition has its roots in the practical need to cut the long spring school semester. At the same time, it was thought that it would be a good idea to give the children a week off and encourage them to enjoy outdoor activities.
It is important to point that in those days tourism was still a luxury within the reach of a few, so enjoying outdoors meant for youngsters mainly going out and do the best to have fun in the middle of the cold and snowy Finnish winter. Thus, skiing, skating, and more recently snowboarding have became the most popular activities on these days.
In search for sun and sand
The initiative was so successful that already in the 1930s the 'ski holiday', besides being a tradition, acquired also a legal status. Today these days off constitute one of the basic milestones of the Finnish school calendar. And although they are still called 'ski holiday', it has become common that many families take advantage of this winter break to travel abroad in search of sun and sand.
Those who are not so lucky to afford a vacation in another country are still seen on the slopes with skis, snowboards or skates practising the most ingrained sports in the country: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and even sledding. In fact, many families and groups of young people take advantage of these dates to do domestic tourism and visit Lapland in search of the best ski resorts in Finland.
Weather is also expected to help. On these dates normally the hardest part of winter has already passed, the sun has returned to make an appearance and the days are a little longer.
So, if you have the time and the money, if you enjoy outdoors activities and your physical condition allows it, do not miss this opportunity to enjoy the best of winter before the snow melts and spring arrives.