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 the agricultural society, all holidays were connected to the land. Spring was the time sowing, ploughing and other farm works. To this list, I have collected Finnish spring holidays which majority (if not all) have pagan origins.
Maaliskuu - March
Derived from the word maa meaning earth. Soil and dirt were revealing itself when the snow was melting.
Kevätpäiväntasaus / Matopäivä — Spring Equinox, day of the snakes 20–21.3
Nature wakes up. Day of Akka the earth goddess. It was believed that snakes and worms woke up from the hibernations and gathered into the fields to dance. Shaking of the earth woke Akka from her sleep.
Mato-Pentti — Worm Pentti 21.3
Snakes rise to enjoy the sunlight
Marjan päivä — the day of Marja 25.3
Day of the Virgin Mary. Mother of life.
Virposunnuntai – Virpo Sunday (week before Easter)
Virpominen is a Finnish Easter custom. Bundle of willow twigs are used for casting spells for good luck for friends, neighbors and family members. Custom is still practiced today by children in Western Finland each Easter.
Easter Week (you can read more about Finnish Easter celebration customs here).
Kiirastorstai — Maundy Thursday
People cast spells to keep away kiira´s, evil spirits that were sent by vicious people.
Lanka-Lauantai (string Saturday) — Holy Saturday
Powerful day for witches. Spells performed in cross-roads at midnight were extremely powerful.
Huhtikuu - April
Derived from the word huhta which is an old word for a broomstick or a bundle. Other old names of the month were sulamakuu (melting month) suvikuu (summer month) and kiimakuu (the heath month). Nature is filled with life and birds are mating. First butterflies appear.
Suviyöt ja Suvipäivä — Summer nights and summer day 12–14.4
Beginning of summer. Cattle was released to the fields.
Jyrin päivä — day of Jyri 23.4
Cattle were let to wander in the forest and were protected with spells. Sacrifices were given for the forest elves and the protector spirits of the cattle.
Markun päivä — day of Markku 25.4
Farming began in southern Finland. Time to forecast the summer weather.
Toukokuu - May
Derived from an old Finnish word Touko meaning growth. Planting begins.
Hela, Vappu, Valpuri — May Day 1.5
Mayday festival. Included music, dancing and drinking mead. Little girls attached bells into their feet. Pagan name of the holiday was Hela. Time for witches to charge their powers. Bonfires were lit to keep evil spirits away.
During the time of Catholicism celebration was turned into St. Valpurg´s day. At the beginning of the 19th century, the name was changed again into Vappu, the international worker´s day. In modern-day Finland vappu is mainly the holiday of students.
Ristin päivä — Day of the cross 3.5
Last day to let cattle outside. Day of the fishermen. In Savonia start of a sow.
Horses were let to graze in the forest and were protected with spells. Hay starts to grow.
Time of dancing and flirting.
Erkin päivä — Day of Erkki 18.5
Beginning of summer.
Urpon päivä — day of Urpo 25.5
The weather starts to get warm. New vihtas (bundles) were made for saunas. End of ploughing.
Pikkukesä — Little Summer (end of May)
Nature is blossoming
images: unsplash & pixabay
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(
Day of the Snakes
In Pre-Christian times people across the northern hemisphere have celebrated spring equinox between 19th and 23rd of March. In Finland Spring Equinox was known as Matopäivä the day of the snakes. Mato in old Finnish meant both snake and worm and everything that slythered. It was believed that on the day of spring equinox snakes and worms woke up from hibernation. There are several myths in Finnish folklore telling how snakes came to be and according to one version Akka the earth goddess was the one who created the snakes. During spring equinox Akka the earth woke up and all the snakes came out to dance in her honor. Origins of Akka and the snake cult most likely was brought by the Baltic tribes that arrived to what is now known as Finland about 7000 years ago mixing together with the already existing saami population. Similar snake worship can be found from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and it seems to have been very common in all Baltic countries in the past. In Lithuania snake was worshiped as one of the most sacred totem animals and it is very likely that the goddess Akka was inspired by Zemyna Lithuanian goddess of the earth.
It was forbidden to let animas out to the fields during spring equinox because people believed that fields were filled with dancing snakes. Spring Equinox was a day when hunters and fishermen build small traps and fishing nets from willow twigs. People made lots of weather forecasts on spring equinox. If there was full moon on the night before Matopäivä. Next day would be sunny but there would be frost during the night. There was lots of taboos connected to this day. Women were not allowed to do any chores that had something to do with snakes or handle objects that looked like worms or snakes, like sewing, spinning or even baking. Breaking this taboo would have been offensive towards the snake spirits. If taboos were broken, next summer tons of snakes would come and bite the people and the animals. Many families had lyylieläin, a wild animal which was half domesticated. It could have been a cat, deer or a snake that lived in the farm but was free to go as it pleased. If the pet was a snake people would give it milk and take good care of it. People believed that there was powerful protective magic in the snakes because they had the access to the underworld to meet the ancestors. Snake was a deliverer of hidden knowledge.
Protection From The Evil Eye
When Christianity arrived to Finland first in the form of Catholism and later on as Lutheranism Easter got many new meanings and superstitions. One of the most weirdest customs that I´v come across has to do with Maundy Thursday. In Finnish Maundy Thursday is Kiirastorstai and kiira was an evil spirit of enviness. People believed that if they were not in good terms with their neighbors they might send them kiiras to steal their luck. To protect themselves they took a sleigh and put all kinds of metal objects to the sleigh and into their pockets. They would hang a cow bell in to their neck and pull the sleigh around the house while chanting protection spells at the same time. This custom was called kiiranajo. It is possible that this custom comes from the time period when pagan folk magic was emerged into Catholic traditions. Sometimes incense was burned in the sleigh and driving the kiiras away became a purification ritual. The more closer we come to the modern times kiiranajo became a custom that was to mimic the sufferings of Jesus carrying the cross. This custom is not practiced in modern day Finland and in fact most Finns haven´t ever heard from it.
Very Long Friday
Four Days of Easter from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday were known as Piinaviikko the pain week. After the reformation in the 16th century Finland became a Lutheran country and Finnish Lutheran church has been often accused for highlighting such things as misery, suffering of Jesus, regression and self-loath during Easter and this has made psychological damage for many older Finnish generations. Good Friday was known as Pitkäperjantai the long Friday. It was called like that because people just wanted the day to end. It was forbidden to laugh, make visits, cook food on the stove or make fire (people only ate cold foods) and parents were allowed to spank their children.
Good Friday was followed by Easter Saturday which in Finland was known as Lankalauantai (the string Saturday). Since according to the Bible nothing special was happening on Saturday it became the witch´s day and it was filled with divination, superstitions, spells and magic. Predictions were made to find out who was going to get married, who was going to have babies, how the crop would grow and so on. Spells that were performed during the night between Saturday and Sunday standing on a crossroads of three roads during full moon were extremely powerful. moon in the sky In many cultures autumn time is especially connected to witches but in Finland and other Scandinavian countries spring is the time of witches and in the old times it was believed that witches were most powerful around Easter.
Symbolism of Eggs
Holy Sunday was the end of fasting. Good food was served and people were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. In the old days eggs were sacred food and in Finland eggs were only to be found during spring and the summer. Egg hunting predates way before the modern day commercial Easter. There was one funny superstition how to find eggs. Person had to go to the cowshed, touch testicles of a ram or a goat while chanting and then they would know where to find eggs. Another superstition was that if person went to get water from the spring in Easter morning before crows made any noise and then would wash their face, they would remain strong and fresh for the rest of the year.
In modern day Finland there are lots of decorations connected to Easter. International symbols of easter like baby chickens, eggs and bunnies are popular. One of the most common Finnish Easter traditions which originates from eastern Finland is picking willow twigs. Willow twigs are decorated with colorful ribbons and feathers. Sometimes eggs that are painted with watercolors are attached to the twigs as well. Willow twigs were originally used as wands in pagan rituals and in folk magic. In Eastern Finland where religion was mixture between pagan customs and Russian Orthodox people used willow twigs in Orthodox rituals were fields were blessed in the spring time.
Day of the Little Witches
One of the most fun and interesting Finnish Easter traditions are Easter witches. Tradition is 200 years old and originally came to Finland from Sweden in 18th century and it is still very popular tradition in western Finland. Easter witch is known as trulli which comes from Swedish word trollan meaning troll or a tiny witch. In the morning of Palm Sunday children dress up as trulli. They put on very colorful skirts and scarfs (both boys and girls) and some paint freckles to their faces. Trullis have copper coffee pots where they storage all the sweets and candy they get. Tradition is bit similar to American Halloween trick or treat tour. Kids go in groups from house to house exchanging decorated willow twigs to money and sweets. They cast a little spell with the twig.
Virvon varvon tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks, vitsa sulle, palkka mulle
(I will make spell for you to ensure good health for the coming year, twig for you, reward for me).
When I was a child dressing up as trulli was the best part of Easter. Many times me and my friends planned carefully our route and went to the houses where we knew there was the best candies. In most part of Western Finland Palm Sunday is the day when trullis are on the move but depending on the area witching day can also be Easter Saturday or Holy Sunday.
Rebirth In Nature
In Finnish Easter is Pääsiänen and this word is derived from Hebrew word Pesach which is a Jewish celebration becoming free from slavery and also from Swedish word Påsk meaning Easter. Because of church regulations still few years ago during the Easter all shops were closed several days in a row. Fortunately this is not the case anymore and shops are open during Easter and Christmas and all other holidays. Like in most countries in modern day Finland Easter is a holiday that is a mixture between different pagan and Christian customs and traditions. Thanks to the Easter witch tradition and the chocolate eggs it is a popular holiday among children. Majority of the Finns are non-religious and for many Easter is more about the arrival of spring simply because March-April is the time in Finland when snow starts to melt away and spring finally arrives.
Finnish Wheel of the Year: Matopäivä (video)
Origins of Valentine´s Day
Roots of Valentine´s Day lead all the way to pagan festival of Lupercalia in ancient Rome. Lupercalia was a festival dedicated to wolves and there are lots of stories about wolves in Roman mythology. Many of them come from Pre-Roman times. In the Etruscan culture wolf was worshiped as one of the most important totem animals.
Romulus and Remus
Most famous wolf legend is the story of Romulus and Remus. The two brothers who founded the city of Rome. Their mother was a woman called Rhea Silvia who was a priestess in the temple of Vesta (later on she became one of the protector goddesses to the city of Rome). Father of the brothers was Mars the god of war. Rhea Silvia had made an oath to remain as a virgin and she could not tell anyone that she had given birth to twins. Legend tells that she put the children into a basket and took them to the river Tiber and left them there. Boys were found by the wolf goddess Lupa. She took them to her cave which was called Lupercal and raised them like they were her own. One day Lupercus protector god of the shepherds lead one of the shepherds to Lupa´s cave. Shepard and his wife did not have any children of their own so they adopted the boys.
"Lupercalia" by Andrea Camassei
Name of the god Lupercus comes from the Latin word Lupus which means wolf. In Roman mythology Lupercus can be seen as one of the personifications of the god Faunus who was the god of untamed and wild nature. In Greek mythology his counterpart is the great god Pan. Lupercus was sometimes described as a man and sometimes as a wolf. In his human form Lupercus wore wolf furs and goat skins. Lupercus was prayed by the shepherds so that he would not allow wolves to attack their herd.
"Faunus", Roman god of shepherds and pastorage
Lupercus the Wolf Festival
Ceremonies were performed by priests called Luperci. These priests worshiped Lupercus as their patron god and their religious organization was known as the brotherhood of the wolf.In the ceremonies goats and dogs were sacrificed. Goats represented the pastoral life and dog represented wolves. Festivities includes music, singing and dancing. People dressed up into animal furs and wore wolf masks. Foremost Lupercalia was a festival where people celebrated their connection to the wolves and the wolf god. Little cakes which were baked by the Vesta´s priestesses were thrown into bonfire. It was believed that the scent rose into the skies and pleased the gods.
In ancient Rome wolves had a dual role. Wolves were both feared and respected animals and many of their qualities were admired like their hunting kills and that they are very family-oriented animals. Lupercalia was celebrated to honor Lupercus and the wolves and also to celebrate Lupa the wolf mother of Romulus and Remus. Lupercalia can be translated as the festival of the wolf and it was celebrated on the 15thof February.
Around 300- 400 AD Christianity was spreading in the Roman empire leaders of the Catholic church did not approve festival which was all about celebrating humans connection to an animal. In 350 AD Catholic church turned Lupercalia into Valentine´s Day.
Story of Saint Valentine
There have been several saints who were called Valentine but the most famous legend tells about a priest who lived around the time of Emperor Claudius the second. Emperor strongly believed that married soldier were the worst soldiers because they were always missing their wives so he forbid priests to wed soldiers. Priest named Valentine was rebellious and he secretly performed wedding ceremonies. According to the story Valentine was captivated and many of the soldiers who he had wed secretly brought him gifts and this started the Valentine´s Day gift giving tradition. Valentine was executed in 269 AD. Almost hundred years later when the Catholic church was putting stop on Lupercalia Valentine was canonized, church started to spread his legend and 14th of February became the St. Valentines Day.
Holiday of Hearts
St. Valentine´s Day has long traditions in Middle-Europe and in South-Europe. In England day of St.Valentine has been an official holiday since 1537. The idea of St.Valentine´s day being a holiday that is purely connected to romantic love started in the Middle Ages by the Catholic church based on their teachings on monogamy.
First Valentine's Day cards were printed in England in the 19th century. By then the holiday was loosing it´s popularity in Europe until it was taken to the United States by the immigrants. In USA Valentine´s Day became a huge commercial holiday and a gift for the marketing industry. This is when red heart became the official symbol of the Valentine´s Day and red and pink became it´s colors.
Some American Valentine´s Day traditions are Valentine's Day ice skating and different kind of superstitions. According to one belief the first person you will meet in the morning of Valentine's Day is the love of your life. One of the symbols of Valentine's Day is the Roman god Cupid who blindly shoots arrows and makes people falling in love. During the Victorian times the image of Cupid was changed from a handsome young man into an angelic chubby baby.
From Valentine's Day to Friendship Day
Valentine's Day is celebrated in many ways in different countries and cultures. In my home country Finland Valentine's Day is known as Ystävänpäivä the friendship day. Valentine´s Day arrived to Finland in the late 1980´s and in 1987 it became an official holiday. Friendship Day in is also celebrated in Denmark and in Estonia. In Finland Friendship Day is the second biggest holiday after Christmas when people send postcards and messages in social media to each others.
I´v always liked the concept of Friendship Day because it goes beyond the idea of romantic love and covers love in all of it´s beauty. It is the time to remember all your friends and loved ones. Some of the friendship day traditions in Finland is to give cards and little gifts to your friends. You can remember your best friends, your partner, your parent, your grandparent or your favorite teacher. Any person who you consider as your friend. Happy Friendship Day!
History of Valentine´s Day Video
Check out my course on Finnish Mythology and folklore )O(
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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