In times of hardship, traditions are perhaps more valuable than ever. They offer us a sense of safety, normality and continuity, a solid rock to cling to. They bring a flicker of hope, joy and light when the world we used to know seems to be in a distressed state.
In Finland, the Parliament is an institution with long and strong traditions, some of them dating back to the era of autonomy. Every year and parliamentary term are built around them. There are traditions of many kinds – both clearly visible ones and “unwritten rules”.
Every fourth year, a new Parliament gets elected. On the first day at the Parliament, the Chancellor of Justice inspects letters of appointment of each Member of Parliament. The parliamentary groups hold their organizing meetings, and during the first plenum, the Speakers are chosen.
Parliamentary openings and closings differ from other festivities; they are the only parliamentary ceremonies ruled by the constitution. The Parliamentary Act from 1928 states: “The President of the Republic shall declare the opening of the Parliament, which shall not be set later than the third working day after the convening of the Parliament. During that time, the members of the Parliament, after the service has been held, must convene in the Parliament House, where the President will greet the Parliament and declare the Parliament open. The Speaker will answer the opening speech on behalf of the Parliament.” Thereafter, coffee and cake are served in the Stateroom. In the evening, the festivities are rounded off with a concert.
The Parliamentary Act also states: “When the Parliament is to be dissolved, the representatives, after the service has been held, meet at a time determined by the President of the Republic at the Parliament House, where the Speaker addresses the President with a parliamentary greeting and leaves him with the Parliament decision; after which the president declares the Parliament closed.”
Independence Day is special as well. In the morning of December 6th, many MPs gather in an ecumenical service at the Helsinki Cathedral. In the evening, they are invited to greet the presidential couple at the Independence Day Reception.
In December, the parliamentary session nears its end. A Christmas tree decorates the Stateroom and the MPs and the staff gather to sing Christmas Carols. A few days before Christmas, the Parliament starts a session break. In February, the parliamentary term begins over.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped traditions, not erased them. In February, the Parliament opening will be celebrated in the spacious Finlandia Hall – this time without invited guests, though. This was the place during the restauration of the Parliament House in 2015–2017, too.
When Europe was in war, Finland was, besides Great Britain, the only country where the Parliament kept convening uninterrupted. Also during the pandemic, the Parliament has proved its adaptability to new situations.
I wish the readers a good and happy year 2021!
Sakari Rainer Puisto is a Finnish politician. He was a candidate of the Finns Party in European Parliament elections in 2014 and in parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2019. In spring 2015, he participated in the government negotiations.
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.
The articles will be published in order of arrival.