Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday--An "only in America" Holiday

Yesterday was Black Friday here in the States. That means that large numbers of people, bellies bulging with turkey, made their way to shopping malls in the small hours of the night hunting for bargains. The term "Black Friday" seems to have some sort of grim overtone, but it refers to the balance sheets for stores. After the huge sales, the stores will be "in the black". Wikipedia explains that the term originally referred to the horrible post-Thanksgiving traffic jams in Philadelphia.

The alternate tradition on Black Friday is to go to a museum. My brother and I headed down to the Currier Museum in Manchester to see the Secret Life of Art exhibit. The exhibit explains the "behind the scenes" aspects of working in an art museum-buying art, deaccessioning art, loaning art, borrowing art, preserving art. You can watch a video about the exhibit at the bottom of this post.

The Santa above seems to be the perfect picture to depict the grim commercial side of Black Friday. Actually, he is in London to advertise the release of the Finnish movie, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. I can't wait to see it! Dark, grim and just in time for the holidays!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is there a Butterball hotline in Finland?

As I busily prepare my root vegetables for a stress free (ha!) Thanksgiving tomorrow, I reviewed the list of "5 stupidest questions people ask the Butterball hotline" on Please note no. 5:

Can I take my frozen turkey into my sauna to thaw it faster?

And of course--why wouldn't I want my bird to enjoy the sauna with me?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! After reading this list I whipped my turkey out of the sauna and put it in the fridge to thaw in a more conventional manner. Check back later to see if my loved ones survive tomorrow's feast.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A present for the loved one who has everything?

This popped up on the Atlantic web site recently! A portable sauna from the 1960s. With very little googling, the Atlantic editor even found a modern version of the portable sauna available for only $199. Far less expensive than an iPad!

If you want something more permanent, pitch a sauna tent!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Isänpäivä, Finnish Fathers' Day--An Official Flag Day

Today is Father's Day in Finland. From what I can tell, Finland adopted this holiday from the United States in 1949. According to the Helsinki Times, the holiday originally commemorated a mining disaster, but now has its commercial side. However, the U.S. does not recognize a "father of the year" as Finland does. This year Finland named 3 "fathers of the year".

In our corner of the world the father of the year is Chris. He has held this post since 2000. He bears no small resemblance to Moominpapa-a fellow intrepid explorer. Living with Moominpapa has its challenges, but it is rewarding. Take the family fascination with Finnish. If learning a second language delays the effects of Alzheimer's, then studying Finnish is sure to cure the common cold.

Lost in the Night--part of the universal tale of light conquering darkness

When I saw the choir master today, he knew I hadn't been studying the music for church tomorrow. I pulled out the sheet music when I was home and saw that the choir piece for tomorrow is Lost in the Night, a Finnish song translated by Olav Lee.

As I listened to the recording, I thought about how this is the season to celebrate light no matter what your religion. Last night Sophia and Ella went to research Diwali at the law school. The girls will tell you that Diwali symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and that is why the law students hung lights and pictures of lamps around the Jury Box.

We are heading straight into full holiday mode here in the United States and sometimes the commercial spree can be daunting and depressing. But there is light in the seemingly endless commercial tunnel--the fun of having a cardamom roll and coffee at Bread and Chocolate before rolling down the ramp to browse in Gibson's with Inez has kick started the holidays for me.

I know that Finns will burn candles in their windows on December 6. In my neighborhood, some shine candles at night to light the way for the Christ child. Soon after Thanksgiving a big Christmas tree will be lit in front of the State House on Main Street. All the festive lights make the dark afternoons and early nightfall bearable, even fun.

The Finns can teach us something about living through the dark months to emerge into the beauty of the light. And the lovely hymn I will sing tomorrow will celebrate the spiritual significance of light vanquishing dark.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11/11 Remembrance Day

Today is Veteran's Day in the United States. Originally a celebration of the end of the First World War, November 11 is now a federal holiday in the United States to honor all veterans. The Concord Monitor published an excerpt from the diary of Alice Spaulding Fournier. She writes of the excitement, the cowbells, the effigy burning of "worldwide peace" on November 11, 1918 in Concord, New Hampshire.

Before visiting Finland, my knowledge of WWI was Anglocentric. I know about the horrors of the gas and trenches from reading such books as Regeneration by Pat Barker. But most of all it is the poetry of WWI that resonates with me today. Chris and I went to the Anthem for Doomed Youth exhibit at the Imperial War Museum in 2002 and that exhibit brought home the misery of the war while celebrating the poetry.

When WWI began in 1914, Finland was semi-autonomous part of the Tsar's Russia. By Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918, the Tsar was gone and Finland's new neighbor had recognized Finland as an independent country:

The Soviet of People's Commissars
December 18, 1917
No. 101

As the answer to the appeal of the Finnish Government to recognise the independence of the Republic of Finland, the Soviet of People's Commissars, in full accordance with the principle of nations' right to self-determination, HAS DECIDED:

To propose to the Central Executive Committee that:

a. The independence of the Republic of Finland as a country is recognised, and

b. A special Commission, in agreement with the Finnish Government, comprising members of both parties, should be instituted to elaborate those practical measures that follow from the partition of Finland from Russia.

Chairman of the Soviet of People's Commissars
Vl. Ulianov (Lenin)

People's Commissars:
L. Trotski
G. Petrovski
J. Stalin
I. Steinberg
V. Karelin
A. Schlichter

A civil war ensued in Finland with Mannerheim going from service to the Tsar in Poland during the Great War to leader of the Whites in the Finnish civil war.

And here is the most famous poem of The Great War:


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

By Wilfred Owen

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Correction! Ruotsalaisuuden päivä or Svenska dagen

I was in a hurry yesterday and did not fully grasp the fact that the little flag on my calendar was not next to Pyhäinpäivä, but rather next to Ruotsalaisuuden päivä.
The shops were closed for the religious holiday, but the flags were flying for Swedish Day. Thank you to Astrid and Mari for letting me know.

Finland has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. About 6 % of Finns speak Swedish as their mother tongue. This multilingualism would send shivers down the necks of some American politicians who find Spanish threatening.

I hope that readers will correct any errors in this post, but here is my unschooled understanding of official bilingualism in Finland:

Swedish speaking Finns and Finnish speaking Finns share a common culture. Sweden controlled Finland for about 600 years and Swedish was the official language with Finnish existing mostly as an oral language. (I have blogged about written Finnish here).

In 1809 Finland became part of Russia. The Finns resisted being part of Russia. The wealthier, better educated Finns of that time spoke Swedish as Swedish had been the language of education. Finnish became the language of independence from both Sweden and Russia. The Swedish speaking Finns had to learn Finnish as part of their movement towards independence and some even changed their names to more Finnish sounding names. Aleksis Kivi and Akseli Gallen-Kallela are examples.

Some of the Finns that we associate with Finnish independence never spoke Finnish flawlessly--Mannerheim for example!

This 2005 article from the New York Times explains how Swedish has been constitutionally protected since independence, but also reports that some Finns today take issue with learning Swedish. I know this from my experience in Turku. My Finnish language teacher explained that her daughter was struggling with her Swedish studies as she prepared for exams and that many Finnish teens resented studying Swedish. They would much rather spend their time on English, French, or German.

I had friends in Turku who were Swedish speaking Finns. One friend explained to Chris that Swedish speaking Finns referred to their community as "the duck pond". You know everyone in it. I watched as the Swedish speaking Finns moved effortlessly between Finnish and Swedish during an Easter brunch. One Finnish speaking professor confessed in a lecture that, while he could speak Swedish, his Swedish speaking friends all reverted to Finnish for his comfort when they were out for a drink.

My daily review of Selkouutiset has kept me up to date on some aspects of bilingualism in Finland. For example, the Prime Minister, Mari Kiviniemi, supports replacing mandatory Swedish language instruction with Russian language instruction in Eastern Finland. Another more recent story explained that some immigrants now wish they hadn't studied Swedish for their citizenship requirements. They may have chosen Swedish as an easier language, but find that Finnish is necessary to really integrate into Finnish society.

So in celebration of Swedish Day in Finland, I post for your enjoyment a flashback to the past,
every American child's first introduction to Swedish-The Swedish Chef!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All Saints Day--Flag Day

Halloween this year fell on a Sunday. Halloween in Finland is not the massive candy splurge it is in the United States although I know some Finnish Americans were able to enjoy the holiday (they trick and treated in their own house!). Any kid in this country will tell you the name of the street that has the best trick and treating. At our house the destination of choice is Auburn Street. Sophie and Nate have scampered up the hill to enjoy the decorations and overwhelming generosity of our Auburn Street neighbors for the past six years. Candy canes, ice cream cones, full sized candy bars--it could be a child's idea of the Sampo spilling good things for those precious hours on October 31.

While Halloween is not celebrated in Finland, All Saints' Day is--it is celebrated today, Saturday, in Finland. The flags are flying and the shops are shut. Why is it being celebrated on November 6 rather than November 1? Well, Hesari explains in this paragraph that I copied from the English on line edition of the paper:

Just the usual quick reminder that a public holiday is coming up.
This time it is All Saints' Day, although there may be some of you who wonder why that was not on November 1st, seeing as how Halloween is supposed to be the 31st of October, and today is already (at least for the British non-Roman Catholics) the 5th of November and Guy Fawkes' Day.
It's all connected with the Finnish habit of celebrating some religious festivals on "the closest Saturday", which happens in this case to be tomorrow.

My friend Mari told me that one advertisement on the front page of Hesari wished everyone a "nautinnollista pyhäinpäivää" which wishes everyone an enjoyable Saints' Day. Perhaps an odd sentiment as the day is an opportunity to remember and reflect and visit the graves of your loved ones.

I can understand enjoying All Saints' Day. I love visiting cemeteries. The oddly purple pictures above were taken in the Turku cemetery this past April. We visited the cemetery, famous for the Bryggman chapel and then went across the street to the moving pet cemetery.

And here to enjoy on Finnish All Saints' Day is Oi kallis Suomenmaa, a song that was played frequently at funerals during WWII.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

And now for something completely different

KBRPRODUCTIONS: HOMEWORK -Teaser from tuna baleon on Vimeo.

In case you want to forget all about the midterm elections -- you can watch some Finns snowboard. Why are they snowboarding down stair rails? Well, there aren't many big hills in Finland.

I believe some of this video is shot at Saariselkä. We went to the ski resort Saariselkä in February and climbed to the top of the mountain over and over dragging our sleds. You can see some of our pictures here.

The best part of the video is the music by the Danish singer Emma Acs.

Perhaps you could play her catchy tune while watching this video shot by daring Americans in Saariselkä. I am sure the Duudsons got their start by plowing into their mothers!

PS Chris said that the Finnish stunt snowboarding reminded him of Meathead films (ski the East--lots of ice) so I am attaching a link to Meathead films.