Independence. Isn’t that word sweet? Here in Finland, we celebrate independence for the 99th time in 2016, so we thought it would be fitting to compare independence day traditions in Finland to other countries.
In our defence, as you read on, remember what the weather is like in Finland in early December.
1. Independence day in Finland, December 6th
In Finland, the sixth of December is celebrated in remembrance of the former tsarist era Grand Duchy of Finland severing ties with Russia, at just the right time after the Bolshevik revolution in the fall of 1917. Good timing, since the Soviet project soon become a less than pleasant scene.
Finland became a part of Russia in the early 1800s, and the relationship, which had its ups and downs, started to deteriorate in the early 1900s under active Russification.
At the sixth of November, modern day Finland takes independence day to maintain a national mythos of unification, which results from the WWII era struggles to not become, at worst, a Soviet satellite.
This is done by lighting candles in the windows in remembrance of fallen soldiers. But most importantly: Finnish societal, political and diplomat elite is invited to take part in a televised ball at the presidential palace in Helsinki.
Watching the ball is tremendously popular considering the stuffy premise. Most of it is literally a procession of hundreds of guests arriving and shaking hands with the president and their spouse.
A common but less part of the perceived fun of watching the ball seems to be in defining an implied pecking order of every guest perceived as female, based on dress. Indeed, the dresses of and the companions of high society ball attendees are a constant target for tabloids the following days.
2. France, July 14th
France likes fireworks on Bastille Day, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789 an important event of the French revolution. That’s not an unusual way to celebrate, neither are military parades, which in their modern form borrow a lot from France.
Most quirky and fun, however, is the nation’s tendency to arrange Fireman’s Balls, where some of the country’s fire stations open up for public celebration.
The tendency of Fireman’s Balls is to have a dancefloor, lots of music, a bar and food. Big fire stations sometimes accommodate different tastes in music with multiple dance floors. Sometimes the balls are free, sometimes money is collected to benefit the fire brigades, the work of which is seen as essential to civilisation.
3. India, August 15th
In India, the prime minister is known for giving a big speech at fort Delhi, on independence day, to commemorate the freeing from 200 years of British colonial rule on August 15, 1947.
But what steals the show is the practice of flying kites, which symbolise freedom, often with the country’s flags tricolour. Sometimes, it gets a bit competitive with grownups trying to knock others kites out of the sky.
4. Pakistan, August 15
As you might guess from the date, Pakistan and India share a few things other than bitter rivalry. Indeed, British colonial gave in on Pakistan on the same day in 1947. We’ll take a quick look at how at efforts of keeping peace in border regions.
Recently, to create cultural prerequisites for peace, activists across the Indian-Pakistani border have started a habit of hanging out together, as well as cheering on border guards as the flags of the respective countries are lowered. In 2013, Indian border officials started bringing sweets to their Pakistani counterparts.
5. South Korea, August 15
While Indians are flying kites a few time zones away, South Koreans celebrate Gwangbokjeol or the Day of Restoration of Light. The occasion has a lot to do with getting rid of the rising sun, pun intended, or the darkness of Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula in the 20th century, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. Suffice to say that the Koreans weren’t fans of attempts to assimilating their entire economy and society with Japan.
There’s a very literal take on freedom here, with the government giving out special pardons to prisoners. A fancy ceremony is also held at Cheonan, the Independence Hall of Korea: the president speaks and everyone sings the Gwangbokjeol song.
6. Indonesia, August 17
Indonesia celebrates the riddance of Dutch colonial power on August 17 1945, when the country declared independence. It wasn’t a walk in the park, and an armed conflict waged on for another four years until the United Nations pressured the Netherlands to stop, calling for diplomatic measures. After some hard negotiations, independence was granted in August 1949.
Traditions for celebrating this hard-won freedom include flag raising ceremonies, communal neighbourhood events and traditional games, such as multicultural cooking competitions and sack racing. However, the most fascinating tradition, beside a competition of eating shrimp cookies, is a game of climbing oiled palm trees.
Bonus: Ukraine, August 24th
Let’s tone down the fun and games for a moment to keep ourselves up to date with the state of national sovereignty in Europe. Ukraine, the former USSR republic has been ravaged by a Russian-sponsored war effort for two years, following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Here at Ink Tank, we think this is a sobering thing to keep in mind, as we sit here in Helsinki on December 6. Which is to say, a few hundred kilometres from the border of Russia, an increasingly authoritarian country led by a kleptocrat elite of oligarchs and intelligence officials.
In 2016, Ukraine celebrated 25 years of independence from the Soviet Union, which happened under the condition of giving up their arsenal of nuclear weapons. The country has had a less than stable path towards democracy. This year, there’s also additional baggage of unpleasant anniversaries: 30 years since the Chernobyl catastrophe and 75th anniversary of the Nazi massacre at Babi Yar.
Yet, let’s hope that Ukrainians in 2017 will be able to continue the tradition of flooding the streets, clad in traditional local costumes, under a form of rule more benevolent than a certain neighbour we share with them.
Did we leave out any fun independence day traditions we should know about? Did we completely mess up the descriptions above? Don’t just bang your head against your keyboard, but let us know in the comments below.