Day of Finnish Identity

Day of Finnish Identity

Suomalaisuuden päivä, suomalaisuus meaning Finnishness, is the day of Finnish identity celebrated on the 12th of May. It is also the birthday of Johan Vilhelm Snellman, a philosopher, scholar, journalist, and politician who lived from 1806-1881.

Who is Johan Vilhelm Snellman

While regarded to have been vital in forming the Finnish national identity, he was actually born in Stockholm, Sweden. Later, moving to Kokkola after Russia’s occupation of Finland 1808-1809. During his studies at the Imperial University in Helsinki, he made friends of the great poets Elias Lönnrot (author of the Finnish national epic Kalevala) and Johan Ludvig Runeberg (author of The Tales of Ensign Stål and lyricist of Maamme (our land) the Finnish national anthem). He later exiled himself to Sweden and Germany in 1839 because of his suspension from his lecturer’s position after opposing the Russian-influenced university directorate. He returned ambitious to awaken Finnish national consciousness in 1842, eventually reaching a post in the senate of Finland in 1863 and due to his language decree, giving the Finnish language equal position in government over time. As the Minister of Finance, he was mostly responsible for introducing the Markka, the old Finnish currency before the euro was adopted.

There is a statue of Snellman in front of the Bank of Finland in Helsinki.
Snellman statue
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What does it mean to be Finnish?

Snellman’s sisu (grit is the closest English word, but it’s a uniquely Finnish concept that goes beyond determination) and that strong sense of national identity are alive in the Finns of today. They are happy to share their love of the Finnish language, Finland’s many internationally recognized achievements, and all other things Finnish. You may have heard “Suomi mainittu! Torilla tavataan!” (Finland mentioned! We’ll meet in the marketplace!) whenever someone references something that came from Finland. This behavior comes from the natural pride that Finns cannot help but show. They would be happy to correct you if you think that Saunas are a Swedish invention, tell you where text messaging and Nokia phones were invented, or let you know that you have the Finn Linus Torvalds to thank for Linux and by extension Google’s Android. But this is not bragging; it is only informing you of the hard work Finns are putting in every day, which I believe deserves that well-earned recognition.