The shelves are adorned with leather-bound almanacs and stacks of wall calendars. The windows of the cosy apartment open to views of both a cobblestone courtyard and, further away, the sea. Previously, the building was the home of the caretaker of the Helsinki Observatory on Tähtitorninmäki hill, but now it is used to keep in touch with publishing houses, sports clubs and waste businesses across the country.
“Practically everyone who produces calendars in Finland is our client,” says Minna Saarelma-Paukkala, Director of the University of Helsinki Almanac Office.
This small office, also known as the University of Helsinki Calendar Services Ltd company, compiles astronomical and name day datasets for the calendars used by all Finns. In addition, it weighs in on, together with the government and citizens, which anniversaries should be added to the almanacs – would, for example, Paavo Nurmi or Helene Schjerfbeck deserve their own day of celebration?
“If a day is considered important to Finns, it gets to be added to the calendar,” Saarelma-Paukkala explains.
A close link to the University guarantees the quality of the calendars
Calendars have always had an important role in government, religion and even agriculture. The Finnish almanac is based on the Roman lunar calendar, and has evolved over time into a purely solar calendar kept synchronised by the leap day. However, even this calendar is not entirely accurate.
“There’s an error of one day roughly every 3,300 years,” says Senior Planning Officer Asko Palviainen.
As an astronomer, he is responsible for, among other things, compiling sunrise and sunset times for calendars. The work requires research-based knowledge – originally, the Almanac Office was actually located under the same roof as the Department of Astronomy.
However, this arrangement is exceptional: in many countries, calendars can be produced by anyone, and feasts and national holidays are decided by, for example, the parliament. Back in time, the University of Helsinki was granted the exclusive right to publish almanacs, which, however, came to an end when Finland joined the European Union.
“At this juncture, it was considered that the University of Helsinki had acquired knowledge of the field to such a degree that it should establish an almanac office.”
The charm of a classic product lies in its familiarity
No unnecessary changes are to be made to the content of the Yliopiston almanakka (‘University Almanac’). History has shown that they can cause an avalanche of feedback. In the mid-90s, a decision was made to no longer include the period of ‘mätäkuu’ (dog days of summer) in the calendar.
“We still get calls from people asking ‘When did you remove mätäkuu?’,” Palviainen says.
Citizens also submit name-related queries to the office on a weekly basis. In fact, the office staff actively popularise research in their Finnish-language blog, lectures and the media, as well as by publishing books.
Roughly one-third of the company’s income comes from calendar templates sold to customers, designed by Graphic Designer Onerva Ollila. Much of the time is spent on producing a bestseller: work on the 2023 University Almanac was initiated as early as autumn 2021. Mistakes are minimised by comparing information from various sources and checking pages for hours on end. Has the content of the almanac already been imprinted on the retinas of the authors? Not quite.
“When I’m checking calendars, I may remember the following name days, but that’s about it,” Palviainen chuckles.
Name days are reformed at five-year intervals
The Almanac Office also fosters the name day culture, with lists compiled by the University of Helsinki’s own specialists: Saarelma-Paukkala for the calendar of Finnish names, Leila Mattfolk, PhD, for the calendar of Swedish names.
In 2025, another name day redesign is in the offing. For this purpose, the pair is surveying the number of surviving holders of each first name. In the case of the calendar of Finnish names, the limit value has been set at 500, while the corresponding value for the calendar of Swedish names is 50. If the limit is exceeded, the name may be added to the calendar – although only after consideration.
“If your name is Alex, it won’t be added to the Finnish calendar, since we already have the Finnish version Aleksi.”
At the moment, gaining in popularity are retro names dating back roughly a century. Children are also given many original, nature-themed names, such as Rosmariini (‘Rosemary’) or Myrsky (‘Storm’). As a docent in onomastics, Saarelma-Paukkala is pleased about people’s interest in name culture.
“We have also created a name day calendar for cats, dogs and horses at the Almanac Office.”
A traditional business reaching for the digital era
In Finland, approximately 12 million paper calendars were printed each year a decade ago, but now the number has shrunk to just over 10 million. The reason for this is clear: while table and pocket calendars used to be everyday tools, these days many people only use digital calendars to mark their appointments.
The Almanac Office is boldly looking for new business opportunities. On the agenda is a website redesign and the opening of a webstore. On Facebook, the office has more than 6,500 followers.
“We have taken a digital leap within the company,” Saarelma-Paukkala enthuses.
Still, she is not worried about paper calendars. The Finnish-language Yliopiston almanakka has been published since 1705 and the Swedish-language Universitetsalmanackan since 1608. They still sell in the tens of thousands.
“It really is a remarkable tradition we are maintaining.”
This news item was edited on 8 March: However, in the case of the national name day calendar, the University of Helsinki retains the copyright protection for catalogues.