In Finland the heart of Christmas traditions involve remembering the dead. For hundreds of years Finns held fast to the belief that the dead returned to be with their families at sundown on Christmas Eve. It used to be that the traditional visit to the sauna on Christmas Eve was completed by sundown, making room for the dead to enjoy their own time in the steam rooms.
During this time, families all journey to the cemeteries to visit the graves of their loved ones and light candles. An area is set aside for visitors who do not have family interred locally. Here, they are invited to light a candle for their own loved ones who have passed on. The scene is reverent and magical.
Families then return home for a lavish meal of traditional foods. There are few who still practice the old observance of setting out a meal for each visiting ancestor who has returned home. The dead are the honored guests this night and are given the best of food and drink the family has to offer. Once the meal is over, Finnish families would continue to honor their guests by offering up their own beds to ghosts and sleeping on the floor.
Image credit: Jussi Hellsten