Before spreading of Christianity people in ancient Finland celebrated a festival called Hela. Hela was celebrated on the May first and the celebration included singing, dancing, eating well and drinking beer and mead.
Hela was the beginning of the summer and festival to celebrate earth´s fertility. There were many different kinds of superstitions and beliefs connected to Hela. One of the most important Hela symbols was helavalkeat, Hela bonfires. These fires were lit to keep the evil spirits away and to protect the cattle from predators.
Another symbol for Hela was bells. Children wrapped little bells to their feet and hands. It was believed that the jingling sounds made the cows produce more milk and protected them. Origins of the word Hela are in Swedish word helg which means holy.
Hela meant the beginning of the farmer´s year and it was celebrated in order to ask the gods and the spirits to give a good crop for the people. Cattle were driven to the fields through bonfires in order to prevent diseases. Other popular customs was to go to sauna and perform love spells. Young people also danced by the fire.
When Christianity arrived in Finland in the early Middle-Ages Hela was turned into a Christian holiday called Valpuri, named after St. Walpurg. St Walpurg was an English saint who lived in Devon. If her name sounds German that is because Walpurg originated from an upper-class German family.
In Germany Walpurgis Nacht is equivalent to Hela and so is Beltane, the Mayday festival of the ancient druids.
When Valpuri got more Christian elements the pagan beliefs connected to Hela became more suspicious. Transition night between April and May was known as Valpurinyö (Walpurg´s Night) Taikayö (the magic night) and Noitayö (witches night). It was believed that during this night witch and evil spirits were in the high of their powers. People were afraid that these spirits would steal children and would curse the cattle. People protected themselves from the evil spirits by hanging bones and alder branches in front of their homes.
In modern-day Finland Mayday celebration is known as Vappu and it is the office workers and students festival. Vappu arrived in Finland from Sweden in the 19th century. It originated from the Day of Flora (Day of the flower) on May 13th which was a very common day for different workers guilds and student groups to have meetings. At the end of the 19th-century, the date was changed to the first of May. During this time period, workers rights became an international issue and still today May the first is the international workers day. Vappu became an official holiday in Finland in 1944 and since 1979 it has been an official flag day.
Vappu is a very colourful festival. It includes carnivals, balloons, confetti and in many places, masquerades are held for children. There are lots of open street markets and people eat doughnuts and funnel cakes and drink mead, sodas, soft drinks and, champagne. Since Vappu is students festival you may see lots of people wearing their graduation hats around the cities.
Check out my Hela video )O(
In pre-Christian Finland pagan celebrations were connected to the land and the wheel of the year was filled with celebrational days to honor spirits of the earth and the land. In the Middle Ages these spirits were re-named after Catholic saints but in many cases the ritual worship remained similar. Winter was the time of inner reflection. The term "pagan holiday" in this case refers to nature based spirituality which was something very common in a culture that had such tight relationship to the surrounding nature.
Marraskuu - November
Derived from old Finnish ”marras” meaning death (dying earth).
Jako-aika – Dividing-time 30.10 – 10.11
Sacred time between the old year and the new year. Time of the spirits. Time of the first snow.
Martin päivä – day of Martti (day of St.Martin) 10.11
Last of the autumn festivals. Dinner included seasonal foods.
Liisan päivä – day of Liisa 19.11
Roads start to get covered with ice.
Litvetin päivä – day of Litvetti 23.11
Beginning of Christmas preparations.
Kaisan päivä -day of Kaisa 25.11
Festival of Kaisa, the protector spirits of sheeps and cows. Wool of the sheeps is sheared.
Antin päivä -day of Antti 30.11
People start to prepare Christmas dishes. Weather gets colder.
(Joulu = Christmas)
Old name of the month was talvikuu the winter month.
Annan päivä – Day of Anna 15.12
Baking for Christmas begins. Giving bakings for neigbours was believed to bring good luck for the farm and the house. Holiday has pagan origins in the worship of Annikki, spirit of the forest, faith and the protector of animals. During Catholic times holiday was turned into St.Anne´s day.
Tuomaan päivä ja pesäpäivät – Day of Tuomas and the nesting 21.12
Longest night and shortest day of the year. Time of rest.
Joulu – Christmas 25.12 – 13.1
Time to remember loved ones and family members. Many pagan customs that were part of Kekri celebrations later on became part of Joulu.
Tapanin päivä – day of Tapani (St.Stefan) 26.12
Day of the horses. Time to visit neighbours and friends.
Tammikuu - January
Name of the month comes from the word tammi meaning oak. Refers to the heart (middle) of winter, which symbol was a big oak tree.
Nuutinpäivä – day of Nuutti 13.1
End of Christmas. Nuutti was a joyful festival. Group of mummers called nuuttipukit visited from house to house singing and performing.
Selkäviikot (back weeks) from Nuutti to the end of February
Time period of hard forest work
Heikinpäivä – day of Heikki 19.1
”Back of winter” snaps. The darkest time of theyear is over and spring is on it´s way.
Paavon päivä – day of Paavo 25.1
Days become more light. Traditional food of the day was peasoup.
Helmikuu - February
Sometimes known as ”pikkutammi” the little oak. Name of the month is derived from the word helmi meaning pearl, refering to the glittering snow. Coldest time of the year.
Kynttilänpäivä/kyntteli – Candlemass 2.2
First day of spring. Time to divinate weather for the coming year.
Sipin päivä – day of Sipri 15.2
Pigs and hens were let outside to eat. Several spells were made using eggs.
Kevät-Matti – Spring Matti 24.2
Nature comes alive. Spirits throw hot stones into water areas melting the ice away.
Day of Mikko
In the old Finnish pagan wheel of the year Mikonpäivä/Mikkelinpäivä the day of St.Michael was celebrated in 29th of September. In southern Savonia this day was known as pässinpäivä the day of the ram.
Mikonpäivä started the winter season and was known as the gate to winter and the opposite of it was Hela the May festival which was gate to the summer.
Finnish pagan wheel of the year was based on agriculture and farming. Mikonpäivä was the time when people moved from outdoor works into indoor works. Mikonpäivä started the last harvest period.
After Mikonpäivä there was runtuviikko which was free week for the servants. Runtuviikko included parties, dances, meetings and many couple got married during Runtuviiko.
Mikonpäivä was important day for the shephards because it was their last working day. To celebrate they lit bonfires to the hills. There was all kinds of superstitions connected to Mikonpäivä. Livestock had to be brought inside before sunset. People were dressed up to their best and when they took animals inside they sang protection spells for the cattle. An arch was made of tree branches and put upon the gate that lead into stables. Horses had to walk underneath the arch for protection.
Sacrifices were made for the elves and spirits. Ancestors were thanked for protecting the cattle and keeping the livestock healthy. Sacrifices were bit different in different parts of the country. In some areas drops of vodka and bread were left for the elves and in some areas silver was given. In the morning, porridge was left for the house elf into riihi (building where rye was dried, riihi´s were common in Russia and Scandinavian countries).
In Eastern Finland Mikonpäivä was the day of the ram and sheeps and rams were sacrificed. Inner organs of the animal was buried underneath the spirit tree and the head was hanged into the branches. Rest of the meat was served as dinner. Other foods of pässinpäivä were potatoes, beer, cheese, porridge and cabbage. Why rams were sacrificed is unclear. It is possible that they were sacrificied to please ancient fertility gods of the land or the ancestors.
In Karelia Mikonpäivä was known as Pokrova and it´s symbol was the veil of Virgin Mary (pokrov is Russian and translates as safety, protection). In the pagan areas of Karelia the last hay of the harvest were taken into the sacred groves. In the areas where religion was Russian Orthodoxism the hays were carried inside and layed next to the images of saints where they were blessed and after that they were given for the cows to eat.
There was all kinds of superstitions connected to Pokrova. In the night of Pokrova horses wore warp during the night. It was believed that when they did that they would not feel cold during winter months.
In Ingria when ladies took cattle inside the cattle shed they sang greeting songs for the earth spirit. It was believed that after pokrova it was forbidden to ”move the land” anymore because the land went to sleep. In Ingria Pokrova was common hunting and fishing day.
In western Finland we have a long tradition of kids dressing up as Easter witches. Check out the video to learn the interesting history behinds this tradition.
Finnish Easter customs and traditions include elements from paganism and abrahamic religions. In this video I talk about their history and origins. If you prefer to read you can find my article on the topic here. Many blessings )O(
In ancient Finland, there were all kinds of festivities connected to the autumn time. This is mainly because for thousands of years Finland was an agricultural society and many of the pagan customs and deities were connected to the land. This list includes some of these holy days. Many of these holidays have pagan origins but during the Middle Ages when the Catholic church wanted to get rid of the pagan deities, holidays were re-named after Catholic saints. The church wasn´t very consistent in their efforts and many of the pagan customs continued all the way to the 19th century and finally ended in the beginning of the 20th century and the industrial revolution. Some of the holidays like Kekri have made a comeback within recent years.
Syyskuu - September
Name of the month is derived from the Finnish word syksy meaning autumn.
Syys-Matti — Autumn Matti 21.9
Preparing for winter begins. Apples, potatoes and turnips are picked. Bears go into hibernation. Matti refers into nature spirit(s) who bring the cool weather.
Lokakuu - October
Derived from Finnish word loka meaning Mudd.
Mikon päivä — day of Mikko 1.10
End of the harvest. Food sacrifices are left for the farming spirits.
Karelian version of Mikon päivä. Includes several elements from Christian Orthodox.
Talviyöt ja Talvipäivä — Winter nights and winter day 13–15.10
Winter side of the year begins. People move from outdoor works to indoors.
Simon päivä — day of Simo 28.10
Days are getting darker. Small waters start to freeze. Fishermen arrange parties.
Kekri (between the end of October and the beginning of November)
Kekri was the biggest pagan festival in ancient Finland. Word Kekri is derived from proto-Uralic word kekraj meaning the wheel and it was the wheel of the year turning. The new year began from Kekri. According to some sources, Kekri was an old pagan fertility god of the land and farming (possibly with Slavic origins). Festivities included good food and inviting the ancestors to celebrate together with the family. There was no settled date for Kekri. It was a family-oriented festival and each household celebrated Kekri after they had finished all the harvest work.
Marraskuu - November
Derived from old Finnish ”marras” meaning death (dying earth).
Jako-aika — Dividing-time 30.10–10.11
The sacred time between the old year and the new year. Time of the spirits.
10.11. Veripäivä — the blood day
Slaughtering was forbidden during the Kekri-time. Blood day was the end of it and slaughtering animals were allowed.
Martin päivä — the day of Martti (day of St.Martin) 10.11
Last of the autumn festivals. Dinner was prepared from seasonal ingredients. There was an old custom of children dressing up as Martti's, little ghosts. This custom is still practiced in the countryside of Finland´s neighbor country Estonia.
If you have followed my series on pagan holidays, ancient Finnish blood day should not be surprising )O( Enjoy
Talking about the day of the bear. It is an old Finnish pagan holiday which (some) pagans celebrate in a new form. Enjoy )O(
Festival of the Dead
Kekri (also known as Köyri) was one of the biggest pagan holidays celebrated in ancient Finland.. It was usually celebrated on the first or the second week of November. Kekri was not a communal celebration. It was celebrated within the family and each family decided themselves when to celebrate Kekri. Celebration usually took place after all the harvest work was finally finished. Festivities lasted three days (Kekri Eve, Kekri Day and All soul´s Day). In modern Finnish calendar Kekri takes place on the first of November and All saint´s day on second of November. As a festival Kekri is similar to Samhain in Ireland, Calan Gaeaf in Wales, Day of the dead in Mexico and Vélines in Lithuania.
It is believed that the word ”kekri” is derived from Finno-ugrian world kekraj which means a circle or a wheel. Kekri was the end of the year celebration so it literally meant the turning of the wheel. As a word it is similar to Finnish world kekkerit which means a tiny party. Finnish word for november marraskuu refers to the dying month, marras meaning death. Kekri was part of a time period called jako-aika which means the dividing time. It was the darkest time of the year lasting from the beginning of October to December. It was believed that during jako-aika spirits were walking among the living and dead were able to visit their homes and families.
Many customs that belonged into Finnish Kekri celebration are now days part of the modern Finnish Christmas celebration. One of the most common customs was to eat a lot. It was recommend that one should eat at least seven or nine times a day. Kekri was a massive celebration in ancient Finland. Preparing for the darkest time of the year people needed to keep their hopes up and one way to do that was to have a celebration where there was food served that were not available in any other day.
Kekri was also time for fortune telling and spells. Young people performed love spells and tried to find out who their future spouse would be. Melting tin was a popular custom. In modern day Finland melting tin is part of new year´s traditions. Many of the spells and Kekri divination's were connected to the well being of the land and growing of the crop. One way to find out how to the future crop would grow was to serve lots of vodka to the master of the house and if he would not pass out the crop would be good and if he would pass out crop would not be successful.
Kekri god, ghost of both?
Finnish literal language was created in the 16th century. Biggest credit for this goes to Finnish archbishop Mikeal Agricola who translated several religious texts into Finnish. Agricola also wrote the first literal list of Finnish pagan deities. In this list of deities he mentions harvest god called Kekri.
Whether Kekri was a harvest god is in constant debate. There is a possibility that Kekri was a harvest god possibly borrowed from Baltic or Slavic folklore. Etymology of the word refers Kekri being the turning point of the wheel of the year.
There was a character which was essential part of the celebration and that was Kekripukki (literally means Kekri goat but can also be translated as Kekri santa). Kekripukki was usually a young man who was dressed up in a fur that was turned upside down, wearing a mask and goat´s horns. Kekripukki and group of similar looking characters went from house to house singing, dancing and performing dirty plays and jokes for free drinks. It is possible that Kekripukki was a fertility symbol. Perhaps a representation of an early fertility god. In several countries and cultures goats and gods connected to goat or ox like animals are connected to fertility. Interestingly enough in Finland Kekripukki was the character that eventually inspired the character of Santa Claus/Father Christmas.
Along with young men walked group of young women called kekrittäret. They were women dressed up in white sheets and their faces covered with white paint.
Kekrimöröt were group of little children dressed up as ghosts/spirits/demons. Children smudged their faces and wore old sheets. They visited from house to house dancing and performing little plays during Kekri. This custom doesn´t exist anymore in modern day Finland. In Estonian countryside you can come across similar custom during Mardipäev in the 10th of November. In Estonia these children are called as Martis (dead spirits).
Welcoming the ancestors
Kekri was time to honor the ancestors and passed away relatives. Master of the house invited the ancestors in the Kekri eve by going outside and pouring some ale to the road. It was believed that the scent of the beer would wake up the ancestors and they would follow him inside the house. Dinner was prepared and places were also served for the ancestors. It was believed that spirits would enjoy their dinner while the family members would go into the sauna. Sauna was prepared for the ancestors as well. There was clean towels and vihta´s reserved for the ancestors. Sauna was warmed up for the whole night and it was believed that the ancestors would stay in the sauna till morning. Kekri was time to remind people that those who have passed away are never completely gone. They just live in another realm invisible to us.
Modern Day Kekri Celebration
In modern day Finland Kerki is mostly celebrated by neo-pagans. There are some pagan traditions that have been re-introduced to the wider public within recent years. One of them is burning the Kekri goat in the cities and villages. Kekri goat is a goat made from willow and it is lit on fire during Kekri evening. Families and friends gather together to watch the burning. Goat is usually 2-3 meters high and wide. It can be even bigger than that. This custom originates from old pagan custom to burn fires during Kekri to keep evil spirits away. It was believed that during Kekri evil spirits martaat would fly around doing bad deeds.
Many of the Kekri customs can now be found from Finnish Christmas and new year celebrations. Straws were big part of Kekri. In the agricultural society straws were powerful symbols that represented fertility of the land. All kinds of decorations made from straw like tiny straw goats were symbols of Kekri but now days they are symbols of Christmas in Finland and in Sweden. There was also announcement made for Kekri peace kekrirauha. For all people and animals to heave peaceful Kekri celebration. In modern day Finland each Christmas Eve in Turku the old capital of Finland Christmas peace joulurauha is announced.
Kekri was celebrated in Finland for a long time. Christianity arrived to Finland around 12th century but it was not until 18th and 19th centuries when almost all Finns were converted into Lutheranism. Kekri was very popular holiday among the people. From the end of the 19th century there are markings that people were still celebrating Kekri. In the 18th century and in the 19th century when Lutheranism was the only approved religion Kekri was banned and some of the punishments for people who celebrated Kekri were fines or they might even end up to prison for a while. Celebration slowly vanished in the beginning of the 20th century. This was partially because of Christianity but even bigger factor was the industrial revolution which forced many people to move away from the country side to the cities to look for work. Kekri the great harvest festival slowly disappeared. Kekri has been brought back within recent twenty years or so thanks to more research that has been made about the past customs and interest towards the traditions and beliefs of pre-Christian Finland.
Nuutti, the Finnish pagan winter festival.
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Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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