Halloween in Finland

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We have discussed some Finnish traditions in some of our previous posts. This time we’ll talk about Halloween in Finland. In the past few weeks, various kinds of Halloween decorations have been flooding stores all over Finland. It might even seem that everyone is preparing to celebrate Halloween in Finland. Halloween with all of its accouterments is a rather recent arrival to Finland. Traditionally we celebrate All Saints’ Day at the end of October or the beginning of November, not Halloween. While the All Saints’ Day is related to Halloween, their traditions and moods are very different.

All Saints’ Day

Pyhäinpäivä, the religious holiday that takes place on the Saturday that falls between October 31 and November 6 translates into English as All Saints’ Day. Both the Finnish and the English name makes a reference to saints, which we don’t have being a Lutheran country. Included in the meaning, however, are also deceased loved ones. And this is what the day is for in Finland. Remembering those that have passed. 

In Finland, remembering deceased loved ones means visiting their graves and leaving lit candles on the graves. It often also involves lighting candles indoors, often by photographs of recently deceased relatives and family members. The day is a solemn and quiet day. It doesn’t involve parties or going door to door trick-or-treating.

Depending on your own culture, visiting cemeteries might not be something you do often. I would recommend, however, visiting the cemetery of your Finnish hometown on the All Saints’s Day evening. You’ll see a sea of candles glowing in the dark. The sight is really beautiful and peaceful. 

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Halloween in Finland

The American Halloween many of us are familiar with through tv and movies, and now also with increasing marketing efforts by retailers, is closely related to the All Saints’ Day. For decades, though, it has been divorced from its Christian connotations. Americans now celebrate it as a non-religious holiday. Across the United States, people are trick-or-treating, dressing up in costumes, having parties, and decorating their houses with jack-o-lanterns at Halloween.

This non-religious version of the All Hallows’ Eve came to Finland in the 1990s. Celebrating Halloween in Finland started in daycare centers and schools, where children had parties where they could dress up, have fun, and eat tons of candy. Halloween in Finland is still mostly a party for the kids and still mostly at schools and daycare centers.

The trick-or-treating aspect of Halloween hasn’t found a foothold in Finland. Finland has its own traditions similar to trick-or-treating, but they occur at Easter in large parts of Southern and Central Finland, or at the end of Christmas (Jan 13th) in certain areas of Western Finland.  

Pagan roots of All Saints’ Day in Finland: kekri

Before All Saints’ Day there was kekri in Finland. Kekri was a harvest celebration occuring at the end of the growth season. Once farmers had collected their harvest and had it safely stored, they celebrated. Kekri celebrations included lots of eating and drinking. Particularly eating enough was important. No one was supposed to go to bed hungry as that meant that the next harvest season would be poor.

Kekri was not held on a particular day. Each household celebrated according to their own schedule based on when they were finished with harvest. In a single area, kekri might last for several days as households celebrated one at a time. 

During Kekri, teenagers and young adults might dress up as kekripukki (the goat of kekri). They went from house to house asking for food and drink and threatening households with mischief if they didn’t get any. 

Also on the move were spirits of ancestors. People believed that if they were able to keep the spirits happy, they’d protect the family’s land. Thus they provided the spirits with food and they heated up the sauna for the spirits.

Later in the Christian era, because kekri and All Saints’ Day roughly corresponded in time and because both involved honoring passed loved-ones, these two celebrations conflated in this respect.

Many of the traditions associated with kekri, however, are now associated with Christmas and how it is celebrated in Finland. For example, Santa Claus, who is called the Christmas goat (joulupukki) in Finnish, is based on kekripukki. Finns also traditionally decorate their houses with decorations made of straw. That also has its roots in kekri. There are also other examples. 

Christmas goat made of straw
A Christmas goat decoration made of straw

Pagan roots of Halloween

Apparently, Halloween has its roots in the folk customs and beliefs of the Celtic-speaking countries, particularly in the Samhain celebrations. Samhain marked the beginning of the dark winter season and the end of the harvest season. 

People left food out for leprechauns and believed that the souls of deceased ancestors would return home on that night. Thus people reserved ancestors a seat at the table, as well as food. They also might reserve the spirits a place by the fireplace. People wanted to keep both the spirits and the leprechauns happy for good fortune.

People might also dress up as ghosts and other netherworldly creatures and go from door to door asking for food. Similar to the Finnish kekri, at Samhain people had plenty of food and drink, and played games, and did fortune-telling. In some parts of the British Isles, people hollowed-out turnips for lanterns. It is quite easy to make a connection from them to modern-day jack-o-lanterns.

The Irish and the Scottish that immigrated to the United States in the 19th century brought this celebration with them to the United States. By this time it had already changed into a Christian celebration for saints, martyrs, and deceased loved ones. By the early 20th century it has spread to the whole country losing its Christian characteristics.   

Happy Halloween and a peaceful All Saints’ Day!

The current practices associated with All Saints’ Day and Halloween are thus a curious mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and consumerist traditions. Depending on what you are planning on doing this week, we wish you a happy Halloween or a peaceful All Saints’ Day!

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