Markets set the scene for Christmas

Finland's Christmas markets are a great way to start advent preparations and get in the festive mood. With handmade decorations, ornaments, handicrafts, gifts and baked goods, including hard ginger bread, the market is a great place to search for a quirky Christmas gift. A highlight of most markets is the hot Finnish mulled wine, Glögi, which helps to ward off the crisp winter air. 

St Thomas Market in Helsinki's Senate Square is the biggest Christmas market in Finland with close to 150 vendors in red wooden stalls. At weekends, Santa Claus visits the markets and Christmas bands entertain the crowds. The market is open daily from 8th to 21st December 2014. http://www.visithelsinki.fi

Meanwhile, the Tampere Christmas Market in Finland's second city, 180km north-west of Helsinki, is the focus of the town throughout December, taking over the square with traditional stalls and spreading  the Christmas spirit. Daily entertainment includes carol singers, Santa Claus meet-and-greets and a musical play. The market is open daily from 5th to 22nd December 2014. http://www.visittampere.fi

Lucia's crown of candles lights up the darkness

St. Lucia's Day on 13th December sees thousands of people gather at Helsinki Cathedral to watch a young woman crowned as St. Lucy, or simply Lucia. The crowning is followed by a procession through the city where Lucia greets the public wearing a white gown and a crown of lingonberry twigs and candles, and a charity collection takes place. The Lucia tradition is based on the legend of virgin-martyr St. Lucia, who was killed during the persecutions of the Christians in 304 AD and is now a symbol of charity, compassion and light. The tradition came to Finland from Sweden and has been celebrated in its current form since 1949. http://www.visithelsinki.fi

The City of Turku declares Christmas Peace

The Declaration of Christmas Peace at noon on 24th December marks the official beginning of Christmas. Thousands of people gather to listen to the declaration, which has taken place at the Old Square in Turku since the 1320s. The declaration is addressed to "all the townspeople" and nowadays concludes with a humanitarian and ecumenical message. The present-day Christmas Declaration was written down from memory by the Town Clerk after the Great Fire of Turku in the early 1800s. The Declaration has been aired on radio since 1935 and televised since 1983.

Santa Claus – not just for Christmas

Santa Claus, or Joulupukki in Finnish, is originally from the Korvatunturi Fell in North East Lapland, yet has now made the Lappish capital, Rovaniemi, his official hometown and headquarters. At Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, open throughout the year, visitors can visit Santa Claus' Office and Main Post Office, where they can observe the flurry of the festive season. Cards, letters and parcels sent from Santa Claus' Main Post Office are franked with a special Arctic Circle postmark, which cannot be found anywhere else. www.santaclausvillage.info

The village is open all year round and opening hours vary. Visit www.santaclausvillage.info

Entrance is free.

Nearby SantaPark is a Christmas fantasy world built inside an underground cavern where elves continue to bustle all year round. Visitors can bake and decorate gingerbread in the Gingerbread Kitchen, learn elf skills in the Elf School or make Christmas decorations in the Elf Workshop. SantaPark's Sleigh Ride explores the four seasons of Finland and ends in the elves' toy factory, where the presents for next Christmas are made. www.santapark.com

Entrance to SantaPark: Adults from 31€; children (3-12 years) from 25.50€ (free for children under 3 years)

The Santa Express (bus line number 8) connects Santa Claus World and Rovaniemi Railway Station.

New for 2014, Santa Claus World at Linnanmäki Amusement Park in Helsinki offers the chance to meet Santa Claus at all times of the year. Accompanied by Santa's elves, visitors are led through a fairy-tale Lappish setting, complete with the northern lights and illustrating Santa's Christmas story, before meeting the main man himself at his cottage. The Santa Claus World shop has a selection of Christmas-themed products, as well as a special postal service that sends cards marked with a special Santa Claus World Linnanmäki stamp. www.linnanmaki.fi/en/santa-claus-world

Linnanmäki Amusement Park is located in the Alppiharju district of Helsinki. (Closest tram stop is Linnanmäki/Borgbacken on tram line 3.)

Entrance to Santa Claus World: 5€ per person; Free for children under 3 years.

Opening hours vary.

getting there:

Finnair flies to Helsinki from London Heathrow and Manchester with return fares in December from £140 and £171 respectively. Return connecting flights to Rovaniemi with Finnair in December start from £175.  www.finnair.com