Text and photos: International Student Ambassador Coordinator Sara Haapanen
You may have noticed that the shops are bursting with cakes right now, and unless you’re on a diet it’s a time to indulge a little. And of course, there is a reason behind it all.
You have probably seen some little golden brown almond towers topped with a blob of raspberry jam and a circle of icing, these are called Runeberg cakes. Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877) is the national poet of Finland, the author of a poem which is now proudly the lyrics of the Finnish national anthem. Legend had it that his wife made him these cakes and they are produced every year as a little celebration. He has his own flag day too, 5th February, so eat cake and give a little toast to Finnish history.
There are more cakes to be sampled too and this time it’s the humble pulla. It is an extra special cardamom bun, laced with strawberry jam or marzipan and a big dollop of whipped cream. Ideally they are to use up all the yummy supplies before the start of lent. The best time to enjoy them is after sledging on Shrove Tuesday, which typically involves a warming portion of comforting pea soup too.
This year shrove Sunday is the 11th February and the official shrove day is Tuesday 13th. Sunday is the popular day for families to enjoy some sledding fun together. For students there is the big fun day on the Tuesday, a large organised event which you can check out at https://www.laskiaisrieha.fi/. Teams get together to build something crazy, it’s worth going to enjoy the atmosphere even if you don’t want to participate.
February also brings ski week, a break from education for school kids and reading week for those of us studying hard for exams and completing final pieces of coursework. Hopefully there will be some snow to enjoy, but it’s a good time to try out some winter sports; ice swimming, ice skating or just simple cross country skiing. Can I personally recommend you try ice swimming, take a long hot sauna, throw a towel over your shoulders and get in the water as quickly as you can. I’ll be honest, in those few submerged seconds you are sure you will die of a heart attack or instant hypothermia, but soon you will feel absolutely amazing and be ready to risk it again. Lake Kuusijärvi can be reached easily by bus from Helsinki centre. They have the most wonderful traditional smoke sauna to complete the experience: it’s mixed gender so take your swim suit and I recommend something like flip flops to walk to the lake. Your friends back home will think you have gone seriously hard core when you relate the experience.
If you are a little more timid, when it’s actually freezing again buy yourself some of those soap bubbles that children love to blow during the summer. The bubbles freeze almost instantly in the air and create the most beautiful frosted domes in front of your eyes. As much as I really love the buzz of ice swimming, there is just something so simplistic in the beauty of a bubble.