There’s this idea of heritage. All the things where you come from. All the bits and pieces that make up the people you come from. Some people use the very concept of heritage to justify all kinds of nasty things.
Helsinki is a very small scale melting pot. People from all over Finland and -to a lesser extent – the world have come here to make a home. My mother came from Savonia and my dad from Karelia. I was born and lived most of my life in the greater Helsinki region, most of it in Helsinki proper by now. The trouble with Helsinki, as with most other melting pots, is that – to paraphrase Terry Pratchett – mostly melts only in one direction. There are some ways that this is good, but it also means that my experience of both Karelian and Savonian things is mostly limited to vague childhood memories. Lately, I’ve been trying to fix that.
For my writing, that has mostly meant reading up on mythology and the customs that are most likely more or less lost to time by now. In my personal life, that has meant learning to actually make the traditional foods. It has been a tasty adventure so far.
The trouble then becomes, what is my heritage? Like I said, my mother is from Savonia, my father from Karelia, and his parents were internally displaced refugees from further east in Karelia. I’ve spent some significant time in my childhood with both my parents’ families, but really, I’ve spent my life here in Helsinki. Helsinki is the city of my heart in a way no other city can probably ever be. But the history of Helsinki beyond my birth is not exactly the history of my people. So I’m learning about Helsinki somewhat in a way that any tourist would; guidebooks and walking tours.
As part of my quest to build myself a wardrobe, I’ve been thinking about building myself a national dress as well. But the question then becomes, which official dress do I adopt? Do I take the national dress of my paternal grandmother, who’s from a part of Karelia that is no longer Finland? Do I take the national dress from the part of Finland that my father is from? Perhaps my mother? Or do I construct the national dress of Helsinki? Or should I just ignore custom and build a national dress that is elements of all these things? Maybe that is the best way. There’s a movement to refresh the national dress anyway, make it more relevant to the current day. Maybe heritage is not as straightforward as it used to be when a bicycle was the biggest national health discovery.