Tove Jansson’s birthday – a cheerful summer party in the archipelago
August 9th is Tove Jansson’s birthday – a special day not only for the family of the renowned artist but now also an recommended flag day in Finland. Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece and chairwoman of the board at Moomin Characters Ltd, remembers the birthday celebrations from her childhood on a beautiful and warm summer day in the archipelago.
On this day 108 years ago, on August 9th 1914, Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki, Finland. She grew up in a bohemian artist home and knew from an early age that she too wanted to dedicate her life to creating art. Today she is famous worldwide for creating the Moomins, and her literature, illustrations and paintings continue to inspire and touch people around the world.
Jansson family birthday traditions
The Janssons love to party, and there were special traditions for Tove Jansson’s birthday parties in the family. Her birthday would usually be celebrated in the beautiful Finnish archipelago, where she spent most of her summers. Her niece Sophia Jansson has warm memories from Tove Jansson’s birthday parties.
“Because it’s still summertime, Tove would have been on the island for most of her birthdays. The tradition was that all the family and close friends would get into their boats, drive out to the island, and have a party. For some reason, the weather was always beautiful – I guess Tove had put in a wish for good weather. It was a very nice day – my memories are warm and lovely from her birthdays.”
Tove Jansson’s birthday party treats
Certain sweet treats were on the menu year after year for practical reasons.
“As her friends and family came from the archipelago, where you normally live with quite spartan circumstances, there weren’t cakes from the shop. People would have brought something homemade. August is blueberry season, so blueberry pie was a standard. The Gustavsson family, with whom the Janssons used to live when they first came out to the archipelago, were a part of Tove’s circle of friends. Their mother Greta made this amazing cake called ”vridubulla” in Swedish. In English it’s called Boston cake – this sweet coffee bread, rolled into round buns and put together into this beautiful flower. That would have been on the menu and was delicious!
Parties were important in the Jansson family
Celebrating and parties were important in the Jansson family, which is also clearly visible in Tove Jansson’s literature and the Moomin stories. According to Sophia Jansson, the hard-working artists needed relief from work and duties.
“It’s sort of an old truth that if you work very hard, which Tove did all her life, you need to relax by partying. Her father, Viktor Jansson, perhaps started this tradition. I think Tove saw how much fun it was to dance, play instruments, drink a little bit, be with friends and have time when you weren’t thinking about everyday life. This was very important for Tove, and in fact, I believe it’s good for everyone to have parties!
Many fans might have seen pictures of Tove Jansson with her signature birthday wreath on her head. The wreath is actually made with plastic flowers, as wildflowers aren’t always available in the archipelago. According to Sophia Jansson, this wreath is still intact today, and a replica of it has been made.
“In the iconic picture of Tove swimming in the lagoon of her island Klovharun, she is wearing the birthday wreath on her head. The wreath would travel around the archipelago from one birthday to the next. Tove gifted it to a family close to her, which shows it was a cherished object that she wanted to have a future life. The wreath is still intact and taken out for special occasions.”
If Tove Jansson was alive today, what would you give her as a birthday present?
“That’s a difficult one. I could say all the usual stuff she liked: stones, shells, a bouquet of flowers, but the older she got, the thing she wanted the most was peace and quiet. I would try and give her that”, Sophia Jansson says.
Tove Jansson’s birthday – a flag day
Since 2020, Tove Jansson’s birthday has been an recommended national flag day in Finland. The Finnish flag is raised all over the country to celebrate Tove Jansson and Finnish art.
“Of course, it’s an amazing honour and a very nice gesture. Tove is only the second woman in Finland to be awarded this honour. It’s important to remember that there are a lot of fantastic women artists who are worth being flagged”, Sophia Jansson concludes.