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Easter

Easter 2018 and 2019

In Finland, Easter time brings a strange mix of Christian, pagan, and secular traditions.

YearDateDayHoliday
201830 MarFriGood Friday
1 AprSunEaster Sunday
2 AprMonEaster Monday
201919 AprFriGood Friday
21 AprSunEaster Sunday
22 AprMonEaster Monday

Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Resurrection Sunday, and Easter Monday form both a holy remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ and a long weekend off work. Church services, family dinners, and general vacationing are all a part of the scene. Finally, Norse pagan traditions, even if few now hold to the beliefs behind them, continue to be a part of the Easter season.

A large majority of Finns are Evangelical Lutherans, but both that church and the Orthodox Church share the status of national churches in Finland. Only one percent of the people are Orthodox, and yet, their ornate Easter services are flooded with Lutherans and foreign tourists every year. In fact, some parishes have even been known to start selling tickets to these religious events, and Orthodox Easter traditions have greatly influenced the Lutheran majority.

During Holy Week, events of the life of Christ are preached, sung, and symbolically reenacted. On Maundy Thursday, holy communion is held. On Good Friday, the death and burial of Jesus Christ is remembered. Holy Saturday sees midnight vigils where people await “the triumph of light over darkness.” Easter Sunday itself is considered the holiest day on the Christian calendar and a day of great joy and celebration.

At one time, Lutherans’ emphasis on the sufferings of Christ led them to restrict work, cooking, and visiting friends on Good Friday. Public entertainment was virtually forbidden, often by acts of the government. Recently, much of this legislation and attitude has softened. Today, many Finns are very secular, in fact, and do not even attend church during the Easter season. Nonetheless, they enjoy the many Passion plays, which are performed on city streets, and take part in many other Easter activities.

Traditions

To a degree, Easter in Finland resembles Easter in other Christian lands, but it is also unique in many ways. Commercialization has filled stores with chocolate bunnies, ornate chocolate eggs, and colorful Easter baskets, and Finns do send Easter cards and go on Easter egg hunts. However, some of their more unusual traditions include:

  • Children decorate pussy-willow branches and go door to door waving them at neighbors to bless them. They are then given candy in return. Sometimes, they also give out budding twigs and Easter decorations in exchange for coins.
  • Children dress up like witches on Holy Saturday and light huge bonfires in an effort to rid the land of real witches and other evil spirits, which are known by the Finnish name “trulli.” Old Norse legends had these trulli sailing about on broom sticks and hurting valuable cattle out in the fields. Today, no one believes in trulli anymore, but the tradition has become too deeply ingrained to be halted.
  • Families plant rye grass in small pots, which are filled with Easter eggs once the grass has grown. They also bring budding twigs inside their houses, and in this way, symbolize the new life that arrives in the spring.
  • Among the decorations that adorn Finnish homes, yellow daffodils are prominent. Their appearance in spring and their bright color makes them seem appropriate in this season of joy.Families gather to eat Easter dinner on Sunday. Lamb is the traditional main dish, but ham, blood sausage, baked cheese, and poultry are also common. A thick, porridge-like pudding called “Mämmi” is eaten during Lent, but it gives way to a full feast when Easter Sunday finally arrives.
  • A full seven weeks before Easter, the Finnish equivalent of Mardi Gras occurs. It is called “Laskiainen,” and it is a day of sledding through the snow and eating things like pea soup and hot buns with delicious fillings like whipped cream, jams, and almond butter. It was once thought that eating hearty would guarantee a good harvest in the following year, but today, Laskiainen is associated with the commencement of Lent, the soon-to-come spring, and winter sports activities.

Easter Events in Finland

Four important events that everyone visiting Finland around Easter may wish to experience are:

  • The Way of the Cross (Via Crucis) Passion play in Helsinki. On Good Friday, a theatrical parade reenacts events of Jesus’ life as the actors march from the city center on their way to the Central Cathedral. There are often thousands of attendees, so it will be a crowded show but one well worth witnessing.
  • Lutheran churches across the land will sing the Passion story as presented in Bach’s two musical arrangements based on the Gospel of John and Matthew. These concert performances draw great crowds to church, even those who do not normally consider themselves religious.
  • Fazer Mignon chocolate eggs will be found in all the stores and in many Finnish Easter baskets. These eggs should not be missed by the tourist since they are so famous, or at least, they are famous in Finland. They are made of creamy, solid chocolate but are coated with a white layer that so closely resembles an egg shell that they make as good an April Fools’ trick as an Easter candy.
  • The natural “event” of the changing season should also not be overlooked. In the south, including in Helsinki, parks are filled with beautiful flowers and new grass, and people are frequently out on walks to enjoy the greenery. In the north, in Lapland, a strange combination of sun and snow leads many to go for evening skiing excursions.

Finland’s Easter season has many unique facets to it. There are traditions both religious and secular, and there are even carry-overs from the Old Norse days that still survive. Anyone travelling to Finland at Easter time will find many new experiences to take part in and make many lasting memories to cherish for a life time.