Finland’s Independence Day is a national public holiday held on 6 December to celebrate Finland’s declaration of independence from the Russian Empire.
Independence Day was first celebrated in 1919. However, during the first years of independence, the 6th of December was in some parts of Finland only a minor holiday compared to 16 May, which was the day of celebration for the Whites who prevailed in the Finnish Civil War.
It is traditional for many Finnish families to light two candles in each window of their home in the evening. This custom dates to the 1920s, but even earlier, candles had been placed in windows on the birthday of poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg as a silent protest against perceived Russian oppression. A popular legend has it that two candles were used as a sign to inform young men on their way to Sweden and Germany to become jägers that the house was ready to offer shelter and keep them hidden from the Russians.
The land area that now makes up Finland was settled immediately after the Ice Age, beginning from around 8500 BCE. Most of the region was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the 13th century to 1809, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire, becoming the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. The Lutheran religion dominated. Finnish nationalism emerged, focused on Finnish cultural traditions, including music and especially its highly distinctive language. The catastrophic Finnish famine of 1866–1868 was followed by eased economic regulation and extensive emigration.
In 1917, Finland declared independence. A civil war between the Finnish Red Guards and the White Guard ensued a few months later with the “Whites” gaining the upper hand. After the internal affairs stabilized, the still mainly agrarian economy grew relatively fast. Relations with the West, especially Sweden and Britain, were strong but tensions remained with the Soviet Union. During the Second World War, Finland fought twice against the Soviet Union, but lost and had to cede most of Karelia to the USSR. It remained an independent democracy but was forced to stay neutral during the Cold War (1947-1991), a status called finlandization.