HELSINKI CATHEDRAL (IMAGE: SATU SUSANNA / UNSPLASH)
Easter in Finland is a public holiday for the whole country dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ. In Finland and the Scandinavian countries, where Lutheranism is the main religion, Easter is celebrated in accordance with the Gregorian calendar. The Finnish Orthodox church follows the Gregorian calendar as well, instead of the Julian calendar observed by most Orthodox churches.
In 2022, Easter was celebrated from Sunday 17 to Monday 18 April, although Good Friday (15 April) was also a holiday. On Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, the majority of the population do not work, and many businesses and shops are closed.
Although in Finland Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year, Easter marks an important break in the spring. On Good Friday, in fact, the YLE news portal reported a 2 km traffic jam of truckers who rushed to their families for the holidays.
Origins of Easter
As you will know, the origins of Easter date back long before the appearance of Christianity, to the Jewish Passover (Pesach). The Jews, on this holiday, used to sacrifice a lamb, and lamb is still a favourite course for both Passover and Easter meals. In addition to the Jewish heritage, some Easter traditions have their origins in European paganism, including local Nordic customs and, possibly, Germanic spring rituals.
DAFFODILS ARE A POPULAR FLOWER DURING THE SPRING AND EASTER (IMAGE: NICKYPE / PIXABAY)
The favourite Easter colour in Finland is yellow. Animals associated with Easter are the rabbit and the chicken. Of the flowers, daffodils are popular, and sprouted herbs, such as oat greens, are used for home decoration. Easter eggs used to be chicken eggs decorated, for example, by painting, but nowadays the practice of decorating eggs is not so integral part of Easter in Finland as it is in the mostly Orthodox countries. Chocolate eggs, on the other hand, are popular also as Easter gifts.
Easter is preceded by the Holy Week (pääsiäisviikko, or hiljainen viikko), which, in 2022, lasted from Sunday 10 until Saturday 16 April.
On Palm Sunday (palmusunnuntai, 10 April in 2022), children dress as witches and go from door to door carrying decorated willow branches. They say short rhymes to bless the recipient of the branch, before handing it over in exchange for chocolate eggs or other Easter candy. This tradition (virvonta, or virpominen) originates in Karelian and East Finnish Orthodox traditions, although the witch costume has its origins in Scandinavian and West Finnish beliefs in trolls, evil spirits who brought diseases and bad luck to domestic animals and who were thought to be a particular threat between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Maundy Thursday (kiirastorstai, 14 April) is not an official holiday in Finland. However, it is a popular church day, as many religious people want to take communion on this day. It is also a traditional cleaning day.
On Good Friday (pitkäperjantai, 15 April), however, there is no communion. This day used to be spent fasting, but few people observe a religious fast in Finland, and Easter treats are consumed throughout the holiday. Some people take the opportunity of an extended weekend to travel for a short vacation. The Orthodox church, which is a significant minority national church, however, maintains the custom of the Lent, which means that some people, on this day, observe a strict fast.
Holy Saturday (lankalauantai, 16 April) is not an official holiday in Finland, so many people go to work and the shops are open. In Ostrobothnia, there is a custom of lighting bonfires to expel witches.
In the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, the Orthodox churches organise the Paschal Vigil, including a procession around the church building and a great feast that ends the 40-day Lent.
Easter Sunday and Easter Monday (pääsiäissunnuntai and pääsiäismaanantai, 17–18 April) are dedicated to rest and feasting with family.
EASTER EGGS (IMAGE: COULEUR / PIXABAY)
As mentioned before, lamb is a traditional Easter food also in Finland. Nowadays festive seasonal foods eaten on Easter include various vegetable dishes such as asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, as well as salads and fish. Eggs are an integral part of the (non-vegan) Easter feast, and, in East Finland and Karelia, they are used in a “battle” in which the participants of the feast knock two eggs together; the feaster whose egg’s shell breaks first loses the game. Apparently, the ‘Don’t play with your food!’ rule does not apply in Easter in Finland.
For dessert, Finnish people love to buy (or sometimes cook) the Easter dishes mämmi, paskha, and chocolate eggs. For drink, red wine is suitable.
MÄMMI WITH MILK OR CREAM (IMAGE: KOTIVALO / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Mämmi is a rye-based dark dessert, usually eaten cold with milk or cream. When I first tried it, it reminded me of semolina porridge with cocoa and milk. Although, for me, it has an exotic taste.
Mämmi began to be cooked in the south-west of Finland in the 18th century. Later, this tradition spread to the whole country and became very popular in Karelia, where many foods were cooked in the oven.
Paskha, on the other hand, originates in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, but it is now a popular Easter treat in all of Finland along with mämmi. Paskha is a very sweet curd pudding sometimes cooked with raisins or dried fruit. Curd pies are a popular dessert in Easter as well. A less-well known Easter dessert in Finland is the kulicha bread, which mostly belongs to the Orthodox Easter cuisine. It is a sweet festive bread baked with raisins, sprinkled with sugar pudding paste and nonpareils. In Russia, Ukraine, and other countries where Slavic languages are spoken, this bread is also called paskha (which also means ‘Easter’).
PASKHA PUDDING AND KULICHA BREAD (IMAGES: PIXABAY)
Christmas and New Year in Russia