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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Finnish Independence Day

Well, today, December 6, is Finnish independence day.  Unlike the Fourth of July, my impression is that Independence Day can be very immediate to people here.  Not only was independence really recent (1917), but they've lost it or had to fight like hell to retain it much more recently, especially in the Winter War with Russia (part of WWII).  There are lots of people who lost family in the latter, in the suffering coming out of it, or in the flight from Russian-occupied territories.

There are several big public celebrations, but the one I went to started at 5 pm with a wreath laying at a major monument in the big city cemetery to the soldiers who fought for independence.  It's also very common for people to light candles here in memory of the departed. (Please excuse the web photos; I forgot to bring a camera!)

From there, the students had a torch-lit procession to Senate Square, which effectively closed down traffic in downtown.  At least by the evening the snow was off the streets and sidewalks and there were enough people walking that there wasn't much opportunity for ice to build.  (I wore my new snow boots anyway, and they worked well.)

The final big event of the evening, other than the myriad of parties and few protests in the student quarters around Senate Square, is the Presidential Ball.  It's held in the Presidential Palace, which is now primarily used for administration and state events and is about 3 blocks from my office at the university, and by tradition all of the guests are Finnish.

It turns out that there are 1,600-2,000 guests, all prominent Finns, and the President and her husband greet every single one of them in this gargantuan receiving line, all of which is televised.  Several of my Finnish colleagues here said I really had to watch the receiving line, so I obliged.  Not only is it something a lot of older Finns do, but my colleagues said there was something quintessentially Finnish about the process.

Not wanting to miss any quintessence, I settled down about 7 pm to watch the line.  Unfortunately I can't understand the commentary and only thought to start blogging after 45 minutes, but it was just too inspiring too ignore.

1.  This is SO refreshing after all the heavily staged and consulted balls, broadcast ceremonies, etc. we get in the US!  The President was clearly cracking jokes to her husband when they walked up, and although she seems quite vivacious and pleased to see people, you can tell by now that the line is grinding on her.  Moreover, the people look normal--different heights, hair colors, weights, etc.  Even better they clearly haven't worked with stylists, or at least not everyone has, so they dress like normal people--more or less successfully.

2.  OMG, I just saw Dolly Parton without the boobs.  (She's clearly some biggie, because the cameras followed her after she left the President.)

3.  Wow, some women actually have flabby arms and double chins.  God, I love the real people aspect of this.

4.  Some folks are wearing regional costumes, which I find interesting.  Granted some are a little dorky by modern standards, but I appreciate the nod to heritage in a national celebration.

5.  Why, oh why, would someone wear something that looks like the Finnish national flag but has a necklace of full sized lilies (no, I'm not kidding).  I guess she consulted with the the woman who wore the yellow gown with a leopard print bra on the outside.

6.  The men have it so easy: they all seem to be wearing coat and tails with maybe some national or military award as decoration or they are wearing full dress uniforms.  It's hard to make that look anything other than sharp, even with some customization.

7.  I was just about to make a rude comment about women needing to get better bras when a woman built like me came through who was channeling her inner Scarlett Johannson.  Yes, I wanted to tell her to get a LESS supportive bra!

8.  It's fascinating how many women are wearing their hair in elaborate updos.  I bet the name hairdressers in Helsinki were busy today.

9.  Wow, I've actually met a couple of the people there.  That's kind of cool and would never happen to me back home.

10.  While the President's husband seems the less demonstrative of the two in general, by now (75 minutes into the line), he looks like a zombie with an automated shaking hand.  Poor guy.

11.  Alice Cooper just walked in--at least blond, Finnish Alice Cooper.

12.  Guys, if you're going to wear flesh-toned gauze to make your dress seem more revealing than it is, it's got to be flesh-toned.  Orange is only flesh-toned if you're John Boehner.  (Oh goody, someone just got the flesh-tone really right, although the corseting must be killing her!)

13.  A gay couple just walked off holding hands.  How refreshing in a political event!!

14.  If you have military or civic honors that mean that you have to wear medals, you really need to take them into account when choosing your outfit.  At the least, be sure to hang them straight.

15.  Wow, a middle-aged woman wearing a white dress just walked in with a bearing and style that'd put anyone in Hollywood to shame.  Real classic style, not an obvious pose.

16.  You know, the Finnish national colors of white and a dark cornflower blue are really beautiful (symbolizing the snow and sky), but I have yet to see an outfit combining both that's worth shooting (there have been some lovely versions of the blue).

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