Thursday, April 1, 2010

The days of Finnish Easter week and old cultural beliefs

The Finnish Easter of yesteryear birthed many ancient and quirky customs, some that continue to this day. The whole week surrounding Easter, is one historically of religious remberance - of torment and suffering..but also with a healthy dose of pagan folklore and old Finnish culture. The so-called 'Quiet Week' was also called Kiirasviikko (The week of the Kiira) - see Thursday for more info. Each day of the week has it own particular name and custom. However these days, most modern Finns no longer observe these rituals and probably do not even know about them. These daily titles come from real days of yore!

Palmusunnuntai is Palm Sunday - which is the christian remembrance of Jesus riding to Jerusalem, with people cheering, taking his hand and walving palm branches along his path. This celebration has left a legacy with the Virpominen willow boughs as described in my last blog. Spring Willow branches symbolise the victory from death and also new life. This stems even from pre-christian paganism.

Malkamaanantai is Easter Monday. Milk is the subject of the suffering Christ, the time of Jesus's arrest in Gethsemane and St. Peter's denial. In Finnish folklore, if sheep were sheared on Easter Monday it was said that their wool would grow abundantly. This also was said to be true for girls that cut their hair that day.. that it would grow faster. How the two link... I do not know!

Tikkutiistai is Easter Tuesday (although it literally translates as stick tuesday!) Why? Well, because people used to carve special Spring sticks like matches, to burn in the Easter fires for good luck on that day and the forthcoming year. These matches could also be set along the slots in the wall to prevent any evil trolls (trulli in Finnish) from entering the house. Religiously, this day remembers Jesus and Pilate in front of the Council.

Kellokeskiviikko is Easter Wednesday (translating as Bells Wednesday) because bells were put on cattle as protection, to scare away any possible evil energy that visited at Easter. This day also remembers Jesus' condemnation.

Kiirastorstai is Easter Thursday (and technically it is Cleaning Thursday) although also Holy or Maundy Thursday. The name of Cleaning Thursday originates from the Bible incident where Jesus washed his disciples' feet on his last Thursday. However, in Finnish folklore the people of Finland believed that the Kiira was a malicious spirit with a playful nature, that lived in the house and yard - which could face expulsion on the cleaning day. Therefore this day would be also be a time to make lots of noise whist cleaning, so that evil spirit would go away and stay away. I think the Kiira would be known as a Brownie spirit to those in the UK.

Good Friday is known in Finland as Pitkäperjantai (which literally translates as Long Friday!) is the day that Jesus' suffering, crucifixion and death are remembered. In the old days it would be a fasting day also.

Easter Saturday is known as Lankalauantai (Thread Saturday). This day remembers Jesus in the grave and the grave itself. Folklore held the belief that all the evil forces were on the move on this day and there was some element about Witches harrassing goodfolk with twisted yarns - hence it's name. Spinning was prohibited.

These two days in old folkore were apparently classified as the worst possible days of the year! This was especially probably the case for children who lived in some parts of western Finland, because the tradition was that they were whipped at dawn on Good Friday in remembrance of Christ's suffering! How awful! Glad that one stopped!

Belief was that this was when evil was afoot, because Jesus was in his tomb at that time and evil was free to do as it wished. In really old days, no one did anything on these days. They did not light a fire, cook, visit friends or family.. or even leave their homes for a second. However they would set and light many large bonfires in advance of these days, left to burn in remote areas, by the edge of rivers etc.. to enchant the evil away from populated areas. They also observed a rule to not eat forbidden foods such as milk and cream - I presume because of Malkamaanantai, when Milk was the significant object portraying the suffering of Jesus.

Pääsiässunnuntai (Easter Sunday) also known as Pälkkä-pääsiäinen, brought some relief I expect... and yet it too came with its own omens and form of divination for the coming year. It was said that whatever creature or animal one saw on the morning of Easter, would be the same personality or trait that they would endure for the year. For example, if you saw a rabbit you would be fertile, a cow lazy, a horse strong, a fox cunning etc. Religion called for this to be the day when that curious Finnish food Mämmi would be eaten. Mämmi was classed, in generations gone by, as the non acid Easter bread. Jewish acidity had been a symbol of evil at that time, so the acidic removal from the Easter diet was then classed as important. These days Mämmi is kept purely as a dessert! (I will be running a blog on Mämmi soon!)

It was also believed that should the sun dance at dawn on the morning of Easter that the coming of spring could be celebrated along with the resurrection. People would go out and watch sunrise from as high a spot as possible. This is the day for eating Easter foods such as Mämmi, Pasha and chocolate, especially in the form of eggs (known for celebrating new life for aeons!) that either the Easter Chicken/Cock or the Rabbit brings.

Easter Monday is called Toinen Pääsiäispäivä the second day of Easter, also known as Pääsiäismaanantai and the resurrection is celebrated also. Just like the friday, it is a general holiday.

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