By Laura Palotie
Today the Finnish community of New York will once again flock to Greenwich Village, where the city’s Finnish church and school join forces for their annual holiday bazaar and traditional Christmas carol sing-along. Most of the city’s expat Finns have become a seamless part of the city’s hurried habits, but for one day each year several generations are brought together by the scent of traditional rice porridge and songs reminding them of Christmases past. In addition, the traditional Lucia procession is a cherished tradition for many parents and children.
About forty volunteers work on the event, whose planning begins in early October, says Ilona Lähde, co-coordinator of this year’s event. Lähde has lived in New York for two years, and two of her three children have been students at the Finnish School of New York. She adds that in addition to the sing-along, the Lucia procession and the traditional porridge, Finnish candies and baked goods such as Karelian pastries are popular draws at the bazaar. Many also stop by to browse handmade Christmas decorations, wool socks and holiday cards.
“There’s something homey and familiar about the event, and gives people the opportunity to meet other Finns in addition to enjoying treats and hearing songs that are dear to them,” she says. Lähde adds that her family particularly looks forward to the Saint Lucia procession, which honors the patron saint of light and follows a tradition celebrated in Scandinavia on December 13. One lucky child gets to don a crown of lights, while others follow her down the aisle of the church with candles in hand. Lucia Day is most notably celebrated in Sweden, and is thus an important holiday among Swedish-speaking Finns. “Our children attended Swedish-speaking schools in Finland, and it was nice that we didn’t have to forego the Lucia tradition after moving to New York,” Lähde says.
The popularity of the event, which frequently fills up the church, reflects the importance of Christmas in Finnish culture. During the darkest time of the year, a holiday devoted to family, food and light is approached with gratitude and reflection; this attitude is visible, for example, in the markedly spiritual holiday songs. “Finns quiet down for several days to celebrate the holiday,” Lähde says. “Christmas is certainly one of the biggest holidays in New York as well, but [Americans celebrate it] with more flash and color.”