Official name Republic of Finland
Formation 1917 / 1947
Population 5.3 million / 45 people per sq mile (17 people per sq km)
Total area 130,127 sq. miles (337,030 sq. km)
Languages Finnish*, Swedish*, Sбmi
Religions Evangelical Lutheran 83%, Other 15%, Roman Catholic 1%, Orthodox Christian 1%
Ethnic mix Finnish 93%, Other (including Sámi) 7%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Euro = 100 cents
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 3215 kilocalories
On the basis of conclusive archaeological evidence, human settlement in Finland began around 8500 B.C.E., during the Stone Age, as the ice from the last Ice Age was retreating. The earliest inhabitants were probably hunter-gatherers who spoke a dialect of Finno-Ugric. Ceramics were being produced from about 5300, and numerous nonindigenous artifacts, found during excavations, indicate that there was a wide-ranging trade network. Archaeologists have recovered flint from Scandinavia and Russia, chisels from Russia’s Lake Onega region, and spearheads made in northern Scandinavia.
Later evidence of the culture known as the Battle-Axe or Cord Ceramic Culture (so called because cord was wrapped around pottery objects to make a design) indicates that they arrived in the region about 3200, bringing with them agriculture.
From approximately 3,000 to 1,000 B.C.E., during the Bronze and Iron Ages, trade and the resulting cultural contacts the Finnish, Scandinavian, and Russian tribes continued.
Most of this information is derived from the study of excavated sites and the artifacts found there. Because there are few written records prior to the 13th century, not a lot is known about the specifics of Finnish history. Although sagas are full of stories about Finnish leaders, these are regarded as largely fictitious.
For almost 700 years, from the 12th to the 19th centuries, Finland was under Swedish rule. King Erik IX of Sweden (c.
1120–60), also called Erik the Lawgiver and Eric the Saint, brought Christianity to Finland in 1154. During this time Swedish was the predominant language, but the peasants continued to speak Finnish.
Severe famines struck Finland in the 17th century. The worst one in 1696–97 killed nearly one-third of the entire population. In a bid to annex Finland Russia waged a series of wars against Swedish-controlled Finland in the 1700s. In 1808 the armies of Russian Emperor Alexander I (1777–1825) conquered Finland. Finnish ties with Sweden were severed; to curb Swedish influence the Russians promoted the Finnish language. During the latter half of the 19th century Finland experienced a surge in nationalism, which gave rise to a nationalist movement called Fennomania.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the downfall of the czar, Finland declared its independence on December 6, 1917. With the signing of the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, the Finnish-Russian border was formalized. During this time social and economic disparities between the ruling and working classes of Finland were increasing, which led to a bitter civil war in 1918. The war was fought between the educated class, supported by the independent farmers and Imperial Germany, and the poor rural and industrial workers. Approximately 30,000 Finns were killed in the bloody civil war.
During World War II, Finland had to fight invasions from the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939–40 and then again in the Continuation War of 1941–44. Finland waged the Lapland War to oust the Germans from northern Finland in 1944–45. The country’s war-ravaged economy emerged as a modern industrial economy toward the end of the 20th century. Finland joined the European Union (EU) in 1995. Today the per capita income of Finland is on a par with that of other Western European nations.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE Finland is a land of thousands of lakes and islands, with an astounding 187,888 lakes and 179,584 islands. The land here is mostly low-lying and flat, although there are a few hills in the northern region.
These areas are covered with forests, and very little land is used for agricultural purposes.
Finland shares borders with Russia, Norway, and Sweden. About 25 percent of Finland’s total land area lies across the Arctic Circle, evident in the severe climatic conditions in the country. Most parts of Finland experience harsh winters and moderately warm summers. The temperature can be as low as 22°F during winters and yet get as warm as 86°F during the summer months.
Finland is one of the few countries in the world where you can experience the phenomenon of the midnight Sun. The days and nights can be very long in this country. At the northernmost point of Finland, the Sun does not set for 74 days during summer.
During winters, the sun does not rise for at least 51 days.
Finland has a highly developed economy and the Finnish people enjoy a high standard of living. Finland has developed wood, manufacturing material, metal, medical accessories, engineering, and telecommunications industries. Finland enjoys good trade relations with Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, and Sweden. The Finnish economy depends on the import of raw materials and minerals from these and other nations.
The country does not export any agricultural products, but forestry is a major export industry. Finland has adopted the Euro as its official currency.
j CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE Although sparsely populated, Finland has a diverse culture. In addition to its renowned modern building design and architecture, Finnish design in furniture and glassware is famous. The country offers a wide variety of music and literature, hosting several musical festivals during the year, where modern and classical genres are showcased.
Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, is well known across the literary world. Elias Lönnrot compiled this epic myth in the 1830s, consisting of stories about the creation of the world, the birth of humanity, and the fight between good and evil.
Sports are extremely popular in Finland, in particular winter sports. Formula One racing, ice hockey, and track events are among other favorites.
Nordic Walking, a fitness walking technique, is also a popular recreational activity in Finland. This exercise is suitable for all ages and can be practiced at any time of year. Almost half a million Finns are said to practice Nordic Walking.
Finnish cuisine incorporates many whole-grain products such as rye, barley, and oats. Finns also consume lots of berries, such as blueberries, lingonberries, and cloudberries. Turnips and potatoes are important ingredients in Finnish cooking.
Fish and meat are main ingredients in such popular dishes as Kaalikääryleet (cabbage rolls), reindeer stew, lihapullat (Finnish meatballs), and mustamakkara (blood sausage). Salmon, Finland’s favorite fish, is eaten raw, smoked, salted, or cooked. Finnish-made Emmenthal cheese is also very popular and is exported worldwide.
Finns prefer strong beers, wines, and spirits. The country has strict licensing and regulations regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Traditionally, Finnish women give birth to babies in the sauna. The sauna bath plays an integral part in Finnish life and in the various rites of passage. The sauna is a heated room where people take steam baths. This is the most hygienic place in the traditional household.
The custom of giving birth in the sauna was followed religiously until World War II. The newborn and the mother would remain in the sauna, along with the midwives, for about a week. The father saw the baby for the first time when the mother and child returned home from the sauna. The eldest family member named the baby by sprinkling water over him or her. Although this custom dates back to the pre-Christian days, it was eventually replaced by a more formal baptism.
Finnish weddings are normally not extravagant.
However there are some nuptial customs that are found only in Finland. Weddings normally take place in summer. Traditionally, engaged couples roam the streets half-dressed and wearing masks and behaving outrageously, much to the amusement of passersby.
On the wedding day, the bride wears a crown.
The wedding procession walks through an arch of honor, and the couple stands under a specially designed canopy known as the bridal sky. Straw ornaments, mirrors, and garlands are used to decorate the wedding venue. The reception after the wedding ceremony is characterized by lively music, dance, and feasting.
When a person dies in Finland, the body is not kept in an open casket and nobody sees it. Thus, it is not cleaned or dressed in new clothes. There is also no overt display of emotion during the funeral. The only person officially allowed to speak during the ceremony is the minister. After the coffin has been placed in the ground, people place flowers on it and say a few words or recite a poem.