Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Christmas today

Finland breaks free from legally enforced tranquility

24 Dec 2018, 22:24 ( 28 days ago) | updated: 25 Dec 2018, 00:58 ( 28 days ago)

DF-Xinhua Report
File Photo VisitFinland by Jussi Hellstén.

Legally enforced Christmas tranquility is fast slipping away from Finland.

As a latest sign of the change, the stores of the national alcohol monopoly are allowed to keep their doors open on Christmas Eve on Monday all over Finland, for the first time following a change in the national alcohol act.

And in the capital city Helsinki, trams and buses of the city transit system keep operating as on any weekend.

Until a few years ago, Finland used to halt to a standstill during the Christmas holiday. Shops were then ordered by law to stay closed after 3 pm on Christmas Eve. As part of the tradition, although not ordered by law, city public transit stopped service from the afternoon of Christmas Eve and long haul trains and buses offered only a skeleton service.

The change started in Christmas in 2017 when shops could stay open as the Shopping Hours Act had been totally deleted from the statute book.

There are now evident regional differences in transit over Christmas as the decisions depend on municipal authorities in charge of transportation. In Helsinki, services are running like an ordinary weekend, except a five-hour-pause on the morning of Christmas Day. In the second largest town Tampere, buses run until 8 pm and offer a full-day-service time on Christmas Day. But the city of Jyvaskyla in central Finland still chooses to halt transit at 1 pm and only to resume on the morning of Boxing Day.

A Finnish language daily Helsingin Sanomat noted in its editorial that now in Finland tranquility at Christmas is "based on the personal choice of the people, and no longer on the limits defined by legislation."

"Finns have learned as well that it is not a compulsory requirement to go to a shop, even if it is open, but there is no sense denying others the right to go to a shop."

The liberalization of shop opening hours has not affected the labor laws and union tariffs. This means people working at Christmas get hefty extras, at least double salaries. But city taxicabs will lose their best revenue evening of the year as they used to be the only mode of transportation working.

Tourists arriving in Finland at Christmas time used to be amazed to see cities almost closed down. The tourist industry was able to get exemptions from the regulations, but they were strictly restricted to certain streets and locations. Gas station mini-markets were allowed to stay open and attracted customers who had run out of any necessities, such as milk, from other areas.

Needless to say, the tradition of Boxing Day sales never came to Finland as shopping on Boxing Day was inadmissible until 2017.

During earlier decades, news organizations also closed down at Christmas. Until the early 1990s, there were no radio newscasts from early Christmas Eve until Christmas Day morning. In the last newscast on Christmas Eve afternoon, usually the minister of the interior addressed the nation and thanked those "who had to work" such as people in hospitals, rescue services and the police.

The media situation changed after Christmas 1989 when the then prime minister Harri Holkeri complained he had been obliged to listen to foreign radios to get coverage of the ongoing violent changes in eastern Europe.