An Expat Christmas: A Finnish – Kiwi Celebration

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)We’re hopping continents and hemispheres today as we hear about Free But Fun‘s Christmas adventures in far-flung places such as London, Sydney, New Zealand and her native home of Finland.  

Read on to find out why Finnish families start their Christmas celebration at the cemetery (yes, really!), and how to beat the holiday heat in Australia.  If you’re just joining us, click here for the rest of the Expat Christmas posts.

From Scandinavia to the South Seas: Christmas Across the Continents

I love the idea of publishing a series of Christmas posts portraying experiences  celebrating Christmas as an expat!  I was thrilled to be asked to participate even though I am not currently an expat. I am a Finn married to a Kiwi, and although we are currently living in Helsinki we have together celebrated Christmas in four countries.


The first time we celebrated a Christmas together was almost a decade ago in London. We got together with a number of my husband’s friends from New Zealand and Australia that were on their “OE” (“overseas experience”) in U.K. Already the idea of celebrating Christmas with friends instead of the family was unfamiliar to me as I grew up with Christmas being a pretty quiet family celebration.

But this was before kids, and our British celebration turned out to be not exactly Christmas-y (Christmas in a pub???!!!), but a whole lot of fun. The girls did a great job creating some Christmas atmosphere in the tiny apartment we stayed in, especially considering how few things young traveling expats typically have. Also, that was when I for the first time met my bridesmaid – so yes, great people and great fun in good ol’ London.

My biggest shock from that Christmas really was about the city itself: how is it possible that a metropolis the size of London completely shuts down for a couple of days, no public transport and next to no taxis?! Isn’t that the time were you *really* need the public transport to avoid all the drunk drivers?


After the initial Christmas we have pretty much taken turns to celebrate Christmas in Finland and in New Zealand, but we also had one in Sydney. When we stayed in Australia I was determined to cook a “proper Christmas menu” feeling sorry for all the Aussies missing out on “the main things,” such as loads of candles (it is *dark* in Scandinavia at Christmas!) and loads of oven-baked hot food that takes a while to prepare.
When Christmas time came in Sydney, I had changed my mind:  cold salads and drinks are all I can ever wish for in this heat. I was happy to have a pool on the yard, sing Christmas carols sitting on the ground in the domain, and I never even thought of “the mandatory” candles in the great company of friends and family. Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

The only thing I stuck to was making ginger bread houses; Kids love them, and they didn’t seem too out of the place looking at the Christmas decorations in Sydney including loads of snowmen, reindeer and sledges anyway (is it just me who thinks they were a bit out of the place in that environment? I would have thought Aussies would have developed something else instead, but hey, a nice reminder of home!). Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

Again, not a very Christmas-y holiday to me but loads of fun, and a great time together – and delicious food.

New Zealand

In my husband’s family in New Zealand, there never seems to be just one Christmas celebration with the core family but always parties around it. And I love the way people of all ages come together in these gatherings. This may also have to do with us not living in New Zealand, so when we are there, we tend to be busy and it is important to catch up with everybody.

Also, my mother-in-law is an awesome cook, but I am happy to help out with what I do best: mulled wine that definitely gets the spirits up. Even though I still somehow feel that everything is not right when it is Christmas and warm outside, I have to admit that it adds some great opportunities for fun, such as bbq, eating outdoors and water fights.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)


In my family, and I assume Finland in general, Christmas is a celebration for the family and not a real party-party. First, you pay your respects to loved ones at their graves (the candle-filled graveyards look awesome!).  Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)The dinner is pretty much always served with ham, often several sorts of fish, peas, sour-sweet potato casserole, suede casserole and  carrot casserole, redbeet salad, the traditional dishes from the old ages. Of course there are plenty of cakes and other sweets for dessert, and there can not be a Christmas without ginger bread and mulled wine.

The Christmas sauna is important and sooo relaxing (and also refreshing if you add a roll in the snow). Even though most Finns are not very religious, many go to church on Christmas, if only to sing the most beautiful carols. And of course there’ll be sharing of gifts from under the tree. Often the evening ends with board games or a DVD together. Rice porridge with an almond in is also a very typical meal e.g. for breakfast.Thrifty Travel Mama | An Expat Christmas - Finland & New Zealand (Free But Fun)

In Finland we celebrate on Christmas Eve; in UK, Australia and NZ on Christmas Day. Neither I or my husband has ever even thought of that really making a difference, we just do “what the Romans do” according to where we are.

In our home, we have a mixture of traditions, like I’ve taken home Christmas socks for the kids from New Zealand. I grew up associating certain things with creating the Christmas spirit but after all the different Christmases I’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing that matters for Christmas is that you share it with people you care for and feel comfortable with.

As for my husband, he did originally think our Finnish Christmas was quiet and starting celebrations with going to the graveyards weird (put that way, it really does sound weird, doesn’t it?!). But maybe he is getting acclimatised, as he just confessed that he is looking forward to the holidays and the casual time together without too much hassle.

I wonder if living abroad makes it easy for people to appreciate variation, to adapt to different ways of doing things and to enjoy the variety… Or is it the other way around, that people who are not too stuck in their own traditions are happy to move abroad?

P.S. There is one Christmas related issue me and my husband probably will never be able to settle on: what is the real Christmas tree… a spruce or a pine?  But at least we agree on this: no, the Christmas tree cannot be plastic, at least not in our home. 😉Free But Fun is a mother of two toddlers living in Helsinki where she shares ideas for how to have a full and fun life without spending too much.  Check out her blog here.

Signature-MarigoldPhoto credits for Expat Christmas graphic here and here.


16 thoughts on “An Expat Christmas: A Finnish – Kiwi Celebration

  1. Pingback: Expat Christmases | Free But Fun!

  2. Wow! Our Christmas is so steeped in tradition that I would have a hard time adjusting – but, once I did, I think that the “when in Rome” attitude is the only way to go! Adapt! But still carry on the time honored traditions! 🙂 And wow, homemade gingerbread houses… I’m impressed!

  3. Ha! Well we have a plastic tree, so colour me un-Christmassy 🙂 . We had a pine growing up, but never a spruce. They do look good on the Christmas cards, though.

    Love the crowd pic at the domain. I totally agree that cold cuts and salads are more the order of the day, and we used to make traditional-style desserts but based on ice cream or custard instead of cake (with all the dried fruit, brandy etc mixed in). We’ll be doing something similar this time around, although I haven’t quite found out what yet!

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  6. Pingback: Creepy Christmas, Day 20: On Christmas Eve, Finland Makes Their Graveyards Scarily Beautiful - CreativeNinjas

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