Easter is an important celebration for us in Finland. Most of the Finns are Evangelical-Lutheran which is why we celebrate Easter. Nowadays I don’t think it’s a very religious celebration anymore for us Finns though. Easter is full of traditions but not many of them are related to religion. In this article I will tell you the main traditions we have here for Easter and I bet some of them will surprise you!
Palm Sunday – witches and decorated branches of willow
Easter celebration in Finland starts on Palm Sunday which is one week before Easter. It’s called Palm Sunday because on that day Jesus went to Jerusalem and was greeted with a crowd who set palm leaves in front of him. But that’s just the origin of the day. Here in Finland we have some weird traditions that are more superstitious.
On Palm Sunday morning most of the kids will take part in a tradition where they dress up as witches or other Easter related costumes. It’s like Halloween but the idea is not to wear scary costumes. On Saturday, the day before, they have picked branches of willow where there are catkins. Then the kids decorate the branches with colorful papers and feathers.
On Sunday morning, the kids are all dressed up and leave with their friends to knock on people’s doors. When the person opens the door, the kids should first ask if they can say out their short Easter rhyme. If the answer is yes they will start their rhyme.
The rhyme is short and in Finnish it goes: “Virvon varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks, vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!” which roughly translates as “I’m wishing you a fresh, healthy upcoming year, here’s a branch for you, please give a gift for me!” They will give then their decorated branch to the person and expect something in return. It can be Easter eggs or other kind of sweets as well as money or whatever the person is willing to give. As a kid that was one of the greatest days of the year because we got loads and loads of candy!
Easter celebration is in Finland 4 days. The timing of Easter is a bit different every year but it is always around end of March or beginning of April. Those are all public holidays and they are from Friday to Monday. It’s one of the longest public holidays we have in Finland and that’s one reason why Easter is a big thing here. Since it’s a long holiday many people travel to meet their relatives or go to their summer cabins to celebrate Easter and the first signs of Spring.
What type of food we eat on Easter then? We do eat Easter eggs here and chocolate but then we have our own dishes. The main food that everyone eats on Easter is lamb. Lamb stew is probably the most popular dish but as long as you eat lamb in some form it’s traditional.
The weirdest food in the Finnish cuisine is eaten on Easter. It’s called mämmi and it’s a dark traditional Finnish Easter dessert made from rye flour. Foreigners usually avoid this dish because of its looks. It doesn’t look very tempting but it tastes really good. It’s a dessert so it’s sweet but the quirky taste comes from the malted rye. We eat mämmi usually with cream or with milk which balances the flavor. Those with a sweet tooth add vanilla sauce.
In Finland we have special Easter eggs that are full of chocolate. You may have encountered the Kinder eggs that have a toy inside so you can actually only eat the outer layer. In Finland, we have Easter eggs that are the same size as Kinder eggs but they are full of chocolate. There’s also another special thing with them: they are made inside a real egg shell! They make a small hole to the shell, wash it from the inside and fill it with chocolate. I must say that they are heavenly good but super sweet!
As a dessert many Finns like to eat Pasha which is actually a Russian dessert. It’s like sorbet and it’s made of quark, raisins and whipped cream. It’s made a day before eating and then left in the freezer overnight. On the next day the pasha is taken from it’s mold, turned over and it’s ready to be eaten.
How do we celebrate Easter in Finland?
Easter is a religious celebration but it’s not very common for us Finns to go to the church during Easter. Some people do go who are more religious in their everyday lives but I think most of the Finnish people aren’t that religious.
It’s very common for Finns to own a summer cabin and many of the Finns go to their cabins on Easter. They either travel there only with their family or they may have a bigger gathering with friends or relatives. When Finns spend time at their cabins they usually grill, heat the sauna and maybe swim in the lake or in the sea when that’s possible.
Some of Finns stay at home on Easter and have an Easter dinner or lunch with their family.
We like to decorate our houses with narcissus flowers. Almost every family buys them to their Easter table. Finns sometimes have also other decorations such as Easter chicks or witches.
My Easter is a combination of all the things mentioned in this article. On Easter I visit my family and my mum cooks a delicious lamb stew. Then for dessert we have some Easter eggs since pasha has never been part of our family traditions. Mämmi then again is and that we eat as an afternoon snack. My mouth starts watering when I even mention mämmi, hehe! Sometimes I’ve been at our summer cabin with my grandma on Easter so my tradition slightly changes every year.
Easter is all in all a very calm celebration in Finland. We take time to be with our families and eat well!
Read also about how we celebrate May Day in Finland!