The Finns have always taken Christmas very seriously. Even today, it is not celebrated with the jolly Dickensian festivities seen in England or America, but rather observed as a celebration of peace. Modern commercialism has made inroads, but the Declaration of Christmas Peace is announced in several Finnish cities on Christmas Eve. The oldest and most popular event is held at noon at the Old Great Square of the former Finnish capital Turku where the declaration has been read since the 1320s.
During the Winter War, the country was fighting for its existence but Christmas was not forgotten in the frontlines or on the home front. Everyone observed it as best their circumstances allowed. Here is the account of Paul, front line soldier, of Christmas Eve 1939 (from Lost Ground):
We’re in combat reserve in a wooded campground behind the front, but we had a decent Christmas Eve. Markus found a chaplain and brought him to our tent. He preached a Christmas sermon about the soldier’s psalm that you will never come to harm if you believe in God’s protection. You know I’m not much for religion, but I’ve noticed strange things out here, things you can only explain by guardian angels. Of course that’s nonsense, it’s all luck. Still, during the service the strangest feeling came over me. The pastor’s words, the men singing, the whooshing of enemy shells in the wounded pines, the sky lit up by crisscrossing flares—it was a moment I’ll never forget.
We brought a small tree into our tent and set one candle on the tree. Just one candle for all of us. The Captain doled out hams. Our pea soup froze solid and we had to eat it in chunks. Then Jokinen played Silent Night on his accordion and Markus sang something in Italian. He said it was Verdi, a requiem. That’s the odd thing out here. We all get through this business in our own way. To Markus it’s an opera.
A full moon is out tonight and four inches of fresh snow on the firs. We’ve kept the Russians out all along the line.
Photos: SAKuva unless otherwise noted