Flags Fly For the Father of Finnish Literature

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A drawing of Mikael Agricola by Albert Edelfelt. A photograph of Agricola doesn’t exist.

Mikael Agricola is known as the father of Finnish literature and a reformist perhaps starting the Finns journey towards independence. His most famous writings include ABC spelling book in Finnish in 1543 and a pray book including information such as a calendar, astrology and hygiene information. His life’s ambition was to translate the bible into the Finnish language. He succeeded in completing the New Testament over a 20-year period but didn’t complete the old testament before his death at approximately 47 years of age.

Since 1960, Finns have been raising their flags on April 9 each year in honor of Agricola’s death on this date in 1557. Agricola spent most of his years in Turku both studying and eventually becoming the Bishop of Turku. This was during the time of Swedish rule when the national language was Swedish.

What is a flag day?

Being a newcomer to Finland, a strange tradition stood out and bugged me to no end. Each time it happened (maybe twice a month) I referred to it as another “random Finnish flag raising day.” There seemed to be no pattern and I couldn’t find out any information as to the event triggering the spectacle.

After questioning locals and a little research, I have found out that the official term, Flag Days. Finland honors its ancestors who have contributed to their culture by giving them a flag day. It could be their birthday or another significant day depending on their achievements.  On these days, of which there are 18 throughout the year, every flag pole must bear the Finnish flag. It is truly a breath-taking site to behold. Thousands of flags fly high as each building has at least one pole and many streets are lined with flags.

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