Finland has a 5.5% Swedish-speaking minority and is officially a bilingual country, so maps nearly always bear both Finnish and Swedish names for eg. cities and towns. For example, Turku and Ã bo are the same city, even though the names differ totally. Roads can be especially confusing: what first appears on a map to be a road that changes its name is, in most cases, one road with two names. This is common in the Swedish-speaking areas on the southern and western coasts, whereas inland Swedish names are far less common. In the far north Lapland, you'll almost never see Swedish, but you will occasionally see signage in SÃ¡mi instead. Google Maps, in particular, seems to select the language randomly, even though the Swedish names are rarely used in practice in most places.
Finns aren't typically very hot on big public carnivals; most holidays are spent at home with family. The most notable exception is Vappu on May 1, as thousands of people mostly the young ones fill the streets. Important holidays and similar happenings include:
New Year's DayUudenvuodenpÃ¤ivÃ¤, January 1.
EpiphanyLoppiainen, January 6.
EasterPÃ¤Ã¤siÃ¤inen, variable dates, Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. Tied to this are laskiainen 40 days before Easter, nominally a holy day that kicks off the Lent, practically a time for children and university students to go sliding down snowy slopes, and Ascension Day helatorstai 40 days after, just another day for the shops to be closed.
Walpurgis Nightor more often Vappu, May 1, although festivities start the day before Vappuaatto. A spring festival that coincides with May Day. Originally a pagan tradition that coincides with the more recent workers' celebration, it has become a giant festival for students, who wear colorful signature overalls and roam the streets. Many people also use their white student caps between 6PM at April 30 and the end of May 1st. The following day, people gather to nurse their hangovers at open-air picnics, even if it's raining sleet.
Midsummer FestivalJuhannus, Saturday between June 20 and June 26. Held to celebrate the summer solstice, with plenty of bonfires, drinking and general merrymaking. Cities become almost empty as people rush to their summer cottages. It might be a good idea to visit one of the bigger cities just for the eerie feeling of an empty city.
Independence DayItsenÃ¤isyyspÃ¤ivÃ¤, December 6. A fairly somber celebration of Finland's independence from Russia. The President holds a ball for the important people e.g. MPs, diplomats, and merited Finnish sportspeople and artists that the less important watch on TV.
Little ChristmasPikkujoulu, people go pub crawling with their workmates throughout December. Not an official holiday, just a Viking-strength version of an office Christmas party.
ChristmasJoulu, December 24 to 26. The biggest holiday of the year, when pretty much everything closes for three days. Santa Joulupukki comes on Christmas Eve on December 24, ham is eaten and everyone goes to sauna.
New Year's EveUudenvuodenaatto, December 31. Fireworks time!
Typical vacation time is in July, unlike elsewhere in Europe, where it is in August. People generally start their summer holidays around Midsummer. During these days, cities are likely to be less populated, as Finns head for their summer cottages. Schoolchildren start their summer holidays in the beginning of June.
See also Winter in Scandinavia.
Finland has a cold but temperate climate, which is actually comparatively mild for the latitude because of the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. Winter, however, is just as dark as everywhere in these latitudes, and temperatures can very rarely reach -30°C in the south and even dip down to -50°C in the north. The brief Finnish summer is considerably more pleasant, with temperatures around +20°C-+30°C on occasion up to +35°C, and is generally the best time of year to visit. July is the warmest month. Early spring March-April is when the snow starts to melt and Finns like to head north for skiing and winter sports, while the transition from fall to winter in October-December — wet, rainy, dark and generally miserable — is the worst time to visit.
Due to the extreme latitude, Finland experiences the famous Midnight Sun near the summer solstice, when if above the Arctic Circle the sun never sets during the night and even in southern Finland it never really gets dark. The flip side of the coin is the Arctic Night kaamos in the winter, when the sun never comes up at all in the North. In the South, daylight is limited to a few pitiful hours with the sun just barely climbing over the trees before it heads down again.
Not much is known about Finland's early history, with archaeologists still debating when and where a tribe of Finno-Ugric speakers cropped up. Roman historian Tacitus mentions a tribe primitive and savage Fenni in 100 AD and even the Vikings chose not to settle, trading and plundering along the coasts.
In the mid-1150s Sweden started out to conquer and Christianize the Finnish pagans in earnest, with Birger Jarl incorporating most of the country into Sweden in 1249. Finland stayed an integral part of Sweden until the 19th century, although there was near-constant warfare with Russia on the eastern border and two brief occupations. After Sweden's final disastrous defeat in the Finnish War of 1808-1809, Finland became in 1809 an autonomous grand duchy under Russian rule.
Russian rule alternated between tolerance and repression and there was already a significant independence movement when Russia plunged into war and revolutionary chaos in 1917. Parliament seized the chance and declared independence in December, quickly gaining Soviet assent, but the country promptly plunged into a brief but bitter civil war between the conservative Whites and the Socialist Reds, eventually won by the Whites.
During World War II, Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union in the Winter War, but fought them to a standstill that saw the USSR conquer 12% of Finnish territory. Finland then allied with Germany in an unsuccessful attempt to repel the Soviets and regain the lost territory, was defeated and, as a condition for peace, had to turn against Germany instead. Thus Finland fought three separate wars during World War II. In the end, Finland lost much of Karelia and Finland's second city Vyborg, but Soviets paid a heavy price for them with over 300,000 dead.
After the war, Finland lay in the grey zone between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. The Finno-Soviet Pact of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance committed Finland to resist armed attacks by "Germany or its allies" read: the West, but also allowed Finland to stay neutral in the Cold War and avoid a Communist government or Warsaw Pact membership. In politics, there was a tendency of avoiding any policies and statements that could be interpreted as anti-Soviet. This balancing act of Finlandization was humorously defined as "the art of bowing to the East without mooning the West". Despite close relations with the Soviet Union, Finland managed to retain democratic multi-party elections and remained a Western European market economy, building close ties with its Nordic neighbors. While there were some tense moments, Finland pulled it off: in the subsequent half century, the country made a remarkable transformation from a farm/forest economy to a diversified modern industrial economy featuring high-tech giants like Nokia, and per capita income is now in the top 15 of the world.
After the implosion of the USSR, Finland joined the European Union in 1995, and was the only Nordic state to join the euro system at its initiation in January 1999.
Buffeted by its neighbors for centuries and absorbing influences from west, east and south, Finnish culture as a distinct identity was only born in the 19th century: "we are not Swedes, and we do not wish to become Russian, so let us be Finns."
The Finnish founding myth and national epic is the Kalevala, a collection of old Karelian stories and poems collated in 1835 that recounts the creation of the world and the adventures of VÃ¤inÃ¤mÃ¶inen, a shamanistic hero with magical powers. Kalevalan themes such as the Sampo, a mythical cornucopia, have been a major inspiration for Finnish artists, and figures, scenes, and concepts from the epic continue to color their works.
While Finland's state religion is Lutheranism, a version of Protestant Christianity, the country has full freedom of religion and for the great majority everyday observance is lax or nonexistent. Still, Luther's teachings of strong work ethic and a belief in equality remain strong, both in the good women's rights, non-existent corruption and the bad conformity, high rates of depression and suicide. The Finnish character is often summed up with the word sisu, a mixture of admirable perseverance and pig-headed stubbornness in the face of adversity.
Finnish music is best known for classical composer Jean Sibelius, whose symphonies continue to grace concert halls around the world. Finnish pop, on the other hand, has only rarely ventured beyond the borders, but heavy metal bands like Nightwish and HIM have garnered some acclaim and latex monsters Lordi hit an exceedingly unlikely jackpot by taking home the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006.
In the other arts, Finland has produced noted architect and designer Alvar Aalto, authors Mika Waltari The Egyptian and VÃ¤inÃ¶ Linna The Unknown Soldier, and painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, known for his Kalevala illustrations.
Unlike craggy Norway and Sweden, Finland consists mostly low, flat to rolling plains interspersed with lakes and low hills, with mountains of a sort only in the extreme north and Finland's highest point, Mount Halti, rising only to a modest 1,328 m. Finland has 187,888 lakes according to the Geological Survey of Finland, making the moniker Land of a Thousand Lakes actually an underestimation. Along the coast and in the lakes are—according to another estimate—179,584 islands, making the country an excellent boating destination as well.
Finland is not located on the Scandinavian peninsula, so despite many cultural and historical links, it is technically not a part of Scandinavia. Even Finns rarely bother to make the distinction, but a more correct term that includes Finland is the "Nordic countries" Pohjoismaat. Still, the capital, Helsinki, has a lot of Scandinavian features, especially when it comes to the architecture of the downtown, and another Scandinavian language, Swedish, is one of the two official languages of the country.