By Marianne Wargelin, FinnFest USA President
Finland has official flag days, days when everyone can fly the flag. Ordinary citizens are not permitted to fly the flag except on these official days. Thus, on a flag day, when you wake up in the morning in any village, town or city, you will discover flags all over, on the tops of buildings, in front of buildings, in yards, in places private and public. In order to get all these flags up at dawn and down at dusk, people are hired for this enormous task.
The rest of the year, only official government buildings fly the Finnish flag. The flag days mark special events, like February 28, the day that Elias Lonnröt signed his name to the poem he had created in 1835, the Kalevala. Flag days mark birthdays of people who have been significant to Finland, like J.L. Runeberg, whose birthday is February 5, the national poet who wrote the words used in Finland’s national anthem and the epic, The Tales of Ensign Stahl. Flag days mark values that Finns want to honor officially, like Vappu, May 1, which honors Finnish labor or December 8, which honors Finnish music.
Only on Midsummer, the flag flies officially for 24 hours every where in Finland. Thus, lots of summer cottages on the lakes of Finland fly the Finnish flag. If you will be in Finland on Midsummer, you too will see the Finnish flag flying for 24 hours. Not even Christmas or Easter get a flag day, but the summer solstice does.
The Finnish government can declare a temporary flag day in order to bring the Finnish people together to commemorate, to honor, or to mark something that has happened. I was in Finland on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and remember that the following Friday, a rainy, gloomy day, Finland flew the flag at half staff in solidarity with the USA’s horror. My memory of 9/11, therefore, are these flags, drenched and drooping from the rain, flying in Finland. I was also in Finland on December 6, 2017, when the flag was raised on the evening of the 5th and flew until the end of the 6th, a unique way to involve the Finnish flag in honor of the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. I remember especially the Helsinki market area, alongside the harbor, close to the Presidential Palace: 100 tall flag poles, set up especially to fly the Finnish blue and white flag for 24 hours, spotlights focused on them, assuring that we could all see them even on a dark December day.
March 19 is Minna Canth Day, an official flag day in Finland. Today the flags are flying all across Finland in honor of Finland’s pioneer author and feminist. The day is also known as Equality Day….in honor of her efforts for women. She was the first woman in Finland to be so honored.
Tampere was Minna Canth’s birthplace. A statue of her as a young girl stands on a boulevard in Tampere. Jyväskylä, where she went to school and lived first with her husband, has a second statue, this of a young woman. A third statue exists in Kuopio, the city where she moved her family after her husband died. In Kuopio, she became the author of plays, short stories, and numerous essays for which she is honored and revered. FinnFest USA 2018 will include a visit to the Tampere statue as well as explore the topic of equality in the 21stcentury.