Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Finnish Tradition: An Introduction

X. Cycle of the Year

Finland has four distinctive seasons, which have had their effect on the yearly festivities. The ancient Finns divided the year into a winter half, and a summer half, with the two yearly transitions between the two halves occurring in mid-October and mid-April. In the middle of the summer half was midsummer in July, and in the middle of the winter half, midwinter in January. In an agrarian society, there was little reason to follow the Solstices and Equinoxes (which are decided in accordance with the movements of the sun), and so changes in temperature became the deciding factor; July is usually the hottest month in Finland while January is the coldest[123].

Each year ended and the new year began at the ‘Kekri’ feast, which was held around the end of October, or beginning of November. Kekri was a harvest feast and a memorial celebration for the family’s ancestors, who were thought to visit the living on that occasion. The next major celebration was ‘Joulu’ (Yule, Christmas), which probably grew in significance over time due to Christianity, and many traditions originally associated with Kekri were transferred to Joulu[124].

The Joulu period lasted for three weeks, from the 21st of December to the 13th of January. During this time, sacrifices were made to the spirits in order to ensure luck for the future. These sacrifices were mostly given mostly to household and land spirits. It was also believed that ancestors visited their relatives at this time of the year, as well as at Kekri[125]. Joulu ended around the mid-winter, called ‘Talvennapa’, when the winter’s back was said to be broken (like the great oak was cut down in the folk songs), and the spring started to return to the world. The coming of spring was hurried during Shrovetide by certain rituals; during Easter, young children would walk from house to house to show off the first, decorated, branches of spring, and to recite spells of good luck to the hostess of the house. This tradition still lives in Finland as part of children’s culture[126].


Talvennapa: The back of Winter breaks and the bear turns his side. This man is performing a rite to help break Winter’s back.

When spring arrived, people would gather in natural places to celebrate the new season of growth. During these feasts, nature spirits were worshiped, and the sacred fires burned. Cattle were put out to pasture, and magical rituals were carried out for their protection during the summer. During May and June, great communal feasts for Ukko were held. At these feasts, food was offered, and people prayed to Ukko that he would give them rain and good harvest; during July, there was the Day of the Bear[127]. As the year progressed towards autumn and winter, the celebrations became more associated with land spirits, the household spirits, and the ancestors. The great communal gatherings in the spring gave way to more family-focused celebrations held inside the house and in the yard. Cattle and horses were again brought inside, and people once more prepared for winter[128].

Editor’s Note:

The author would like to let it be known that some of the Finnish words that are capitalized here would not normally be so in Finnish. As the editor, I have tried to tread a line between the Finnish and English rules.

Secondly, in referring to the ‘luonto’, the word ‘luonto’ would not normally be prefaced with an article in Finnish. In English, this is not possible as it would cause ambiguity for the reader.