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Modern Father Christmas The Finnish equivalent for Father Christmas, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas etc, is joulupukki, who has his origin in the pagan Nordic shaman tradition of people dressing up in animal disguises.

Joulupukki was once a symbol of fertility and more of a frightening figure back then than today. He was clad in thick fur-lined coat turned inside out, wearing a mask and a pair of horns on his head. The name joulupukki literally means "Christmas buck" (billy-goat).

In the United States, the figure of Santa Claus appearing in texts and illustrations as red-suited, chubby man with white beard was more or less established by the late 19th century.

Coca-Cola bus shelter billboard Based on these older depictions, the Michigan-born artist Haddon Sundblom (1899 - 1976) created his well-known Santa Claus figure to be used in the advertisements of the Coca-Cola Company in the 1930s.

This image of Santa has since spread throughout the world.

Picture on left: Coca-Cola bus shelter billboard portraying typical American Santa Claus figure.

Note: One could say that the commercialised Coca-Cola Santa figure has Finnish and Nordic roots, since Haddon Sundblom's father was born in Finland and his mother was Swedish :-)

Russian Santa - Father Frost Although the figure of the modern Finnish Santa somewhat resembles that of the American one, clad in red-and-white suit, he still maintains some purely Nordic elements in his clothing and way of life.

Picture on right: the Russian Santa, дед-мороз (ded-moroz)  —  Father Frost.

Nowadays the relaxed and jolly "pukki" personally visits many Finnish homes on Christmas Eve, December 24th, to hand out presents for children. To thank joulupukki, children may sing a few Christmas carols for him.

The custom of joulupukki-visit became popular in Finland in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Starting his journey from his home in Lapland, joulupukki travels in a sleigh drawn by reindeer. Joulupukki always travels by land, as his Finnish reindeer do not fly.

Finnish reindeer

In picture above: Finnish reindeer (Rangifer tarandus).


Father Christmas and gnomes

Map of Europe: Finland The Finns are very keen in persuading the whole world to think that the true origin and home of Father Christmas actually lies in Lapland, the northern part of Finland.

Picture on right:

Finland Finland
Helsinki Helsinki, capital of Finland
Korvatunturi fell Korvatunturi fell

The Finnish children believe joulupukki is living there together with Mother Christmas and their little helpers, the elves  —  or gnomes, as they are more properly called. Their home is in a fell called Korvatunturi, literally translated as Ear Fell (see the map above).

Scandinavian gnome It is there where joulupukki has his workshop where toys and other Christmas presents are crafted by the gnomes.

Another task of theirs is to keep an eye on children, in order to see whether they have been behaving well and deserve any presents on Christmas...

In the Nordic mythology, especially in Finland and Sweden, the gnomes were originally guardians and good spirits of the house, believed to inhabit saunas, barns, byres, stalls etc.

Picture on right: Scandinavian gnome.

Gnomes cooking Christmas porridge Porridge and food was taken out to them in order to keep them in good humour, thus confirming good fortune and prosperous future for the household.

If the gnomes were ignored, they might avenge by causing all sorts of mischief and trouble or even abandon the house altogether, leaving it unprotected.

Picture on left: Scandinavian gnomes cooking Christmas porridge.

While Mother Christmas rarely makes an appearance, a couple of little gnomes, on the other hand, may accompany joulupukki on his visits to Finnish families on Christmas Eve.

Sheaf of oats for birds In addition to taking care of gnomes, the domestic animals were also pampered by giving them extra feed at Christmas.

Picture on right: a sheaf of oats for birds.

Also wild animals were remembered. Sheaves of oats were placed outside on yards to feed little birds through the coldest winter season.

This custom is still commonly practised in the Nordic countries.


Read more about traditional Finnish Christmas dinner here.

You will find traditional Finnish Christmas recipes here.


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