Living in Finland

Shrovetide traditions in Finland

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This coming Sunday is Shrove Sunday. The following Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday. In this blog post, we introduce you to Shrovetide traditions in Finland.

What is Shrovetide

Shrovetide is a Christian tradition. In denotes the start of the Easter season. In the Catholic tradition, it is the beginning of the Eastern Lent period. Lutherans normally don’t observe Lent. 

In Finnish, Shrovetide is laskiainen. It is not exactly sure where that name for this period comes from. Some people have suggested that the word means settling into the Lent period.

For most Finns, Shrovetide is nowadays devoid of its Christian meaning. Much like Mid-Summer, Shrovetide is more about having fun than observing Christian traditions. 

As we explain in our Crash Course to Finland, although the majority of Finns belong to the Lutheran church, most Finns are secular. For example, only about 6-7 % of Finns participate in church services monthly. This percentage is among the lowest in the world. This might explain why so many Christian celebrations in Finland are hardly such anymore. 

Old Shrovetide traditions in Finland

If you read our blog post about Halloween in Finland you might remember how pre-Christian traditions are mixed in with Christian traditions in what is now Halloween or All Saints Day. The same is true for some Christmas traditions. Shrovetide is the same way.

In pre-industrial Finland, Shrovetide marked the end of time period when women finished spinning yarn, which they had been doing for the darkest time of the year. So, much like Halloween, Shrovetide marked the end of a certain time of work and transition to another type. It was a transition from spinning to weaving. 

Shrovetide, again much like Halloween, also included different types of traditions, tabus, games, spells, and fortune-telling for the growing season to come. Because Shrovetide was particularly connected with women’s work, so were these traditions and spells.

For example, one couldn’t utter a word in the Shrovetide sauna unless one wanted to the plagued by lots of insects in the summer. So, in preparation for the coming summer go to the sauna on Shrovetide, stay completely silent the whole time and hope that that will keep the mosquitoes off you. (Or alternatively, you might rely on lots of insects repellent).

It also meant specific types of food. Shrovetide food had to be particularly greasy. Serving and eating greasy food guaranteed fat pigs and good milking cows for the year. Greasy fingers guaranteed good sickle handling skills. 

Shrovetide foods these days

Today, the foods that are belong to Shrovetide traditions in Finland include hernekeitto, pannukakku, blinis, and laskiaispulla

Hernekeitto (pea soup) used to be prepared from the meat that was leftover from Christmas. Back then it meant pig head and feet. These days you can get pea soup with or without meat. And you can get good pea soup in cans if you don’t want to try to make it yourself.

pea soup, Shrovetide tradition in Finland

Pancakes (pannukakku) and jam often follow pea soup. Back in the day, all the butter and the eggs had to be used at Shrovetide because they were forbidden during Lent and they wouldn’t keep. Serving pancakes solved that problem.

Shrovetide also means blini season. Blinis are a Russian Shrovetide tradition. These pancakes of sorts are eaten with sour cream (smetana), caviar, raw onion, pickled cucumbers, etc. Many restaurants have blini weeks this time of the year. If you haven’t had any, try some. They are delicious!

Laskiaispulla came to Finland from Sweden in the 1800s. What made the bun special was that it was made from fine white flour, which was expensive. The almond paste filling was also more for the upper classes. Poorer people dipped the buns in milk instead. 

Laskiaispulla, a Shrovetide tradition in Finland

These days there are two types of laskiaispulla, one with whipped cream and almond paste and the other with whipped cream and jam. Both have their own staunch supporters. If you want to stir up controversy at work, start a conversation strongly favoring one or the other. That’ll get people excited and animated for sure!

You can run into laskiaispulla also, for example, in Sweden (mostly with almond paste), Norway, Denmark, and Estonia. 

Wintery Carnival

In many parts of the world, the beginning of Lent is the carnival season. Carnival season culminates in Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday. 

In Finland, where Shrovetide coincides with the hight of winter, the partying happens on low hillsides and on the ice. 

Sledding is a definite part of Shrovetide traditions in Finland, particularly on Shrove Tuesday. And Shrovetide sledding is not just for kids. Hills on Shrove Sunday and Tuesday are as populated with adults as they are with kids. 

University students have taken sledding on Shrove Tuesday to a new level. Thousands of University students in the capital region gather at Ullanlinnanmäki every Shrove Tuesday to compete in a sledding competition where participants sled down a hill with different kinds of contraptions. In 2014, when there wasn’t much snow the students organized the event anyway. The organizers just brought in snow from elsewhere. We’ll see what happens this year. The event should take place from 11 am until 4 pm. 

With the lack of snow in southern Finland, sledding is really not an option this year. Here are, however, other things you can do:

Have fun!

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