Easter in Finland is a Christian festival, but many Easter traditions have pagan origins. Finland’s Easter holiday traditions are also inspired by the Orthodox Church and many Easter foods in Finland are originally from Russia. If you’re visiting Finland during Easter holidays, keep in mind that shops, offices banks and many other services are closed on Good Friday and again on Easter Sunday and Monday.
Palm Sunday Traditions in Finland
On Palm Sunday children around Finland dress up as little witches and equip themselves with willow branches decorated with colourful feathers and crepe paper. The little witches tour the neighbourhood, knock on doors and recite an old poem that promises health and youthfulness for the coming year and asks for a reward. Whoever opens the door gets one of the decorated willow branches as a gift and the reward is usually a chocolate egg or other seasonal sweets.
This tradition, called virpominen or virvonta, is believed to be partly influenced by the Christian tradition of waving or laying out palm leaves to remember the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, welcomed by a crowd laying palm leaves on His way. Finland does not have palm trees and the closest one gets to green leaves in early springtime are willow branches, which often by Easter have developed small buds. But virpominen is also a pagan tradition and used to be popular in the Orthodox areas and in the Karelia region in East Finland (East Karelia is now part of Russia).
Good Friday Traditions in Finland
Traditionally Good Friday has been a day to remember the suffering of the Christ on the Cross, and Finns used to take this very seriously. Many activities were banned: visiting friends, dancing or laughing too much were not approved on Good Friday. Children were sometimes whipped (usually with thin branches from a birch tree) and since lighting a fire to cook food was also forbidden, leftovers from the previous day were eaten. Today most of the hardcore traditions do not exist anymore, but much of Finland remains very quiet and family-oriented on Good Friday.
It was also believed that on Good Friday and on Saturday (Holy Saturday, although that’s not what it is called in Finland) evil spirits were running wild. Witches were believed to fly on their broomsticks to a mountain called Kyöpelivuori on Saturday night. In parts of Finland, especially in the Ostrobothnia region, bonfires were lit in the evening to ward off witches, and you might still see Easter bonfires in some areas. If you’re visiting Helsinki during the Easter weekend and want to see a traditional Easter bonfire, one of the best places is the Seurasaari Open Air Museum.
Finnish Easter Sunday Traditions
On Easter Sunday the sun is said to dance in the sky to celebrate Resurrection, but for most modern Finnish children the main event of the day is the Easter egg hunt. Chocolate eggs are not delivered by the more famous Easter Bunny but a cockerel, and eggs may be hidden around the house or under the bed. In most parts of Finland it would be still too cold to go out to hunt for Easter eggs in the garden, and the garden might be covered in snow anyway.
As well as chocolate eggs, Finns eat boiled eggs on Easter Sunday and the eggs are usually painted either with water colours or by adding onion peels into the boiling water. Other traditional Easter foods in Finland include pasha, an originally Russian sweet dessert, and mämmi. Made with rye flour, rye malt and molasses, mämmi a hugely popular dish but an acquired taste.