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Merry Joulu!

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Little Epeli sends his greetings too! (photos by Viivi)

For this Christmas I found an interesting piece of text about the Christmas tradition in Finland. The quote below is from “Suomenusko” Facebook page. I’m so glad they translate their posts in English as well! It’s also a great page to visit if you are interested in Finnish history and traditions in general.

There hasn’t been much of difference in our little stable’s life this Christmas – a few extra carrots and spruce branches to munch on, the horses just love them. :)

Joulu was a joyful family feast celebrating the harvest year that brought health, vitality and well-being for the whole year. On joulu people went to sauna, played games and spend good time together, ate well and remembered their ancestors, haltija spirits as well as domestic animals.

Many joulu customs have been transferred from kekri to joulu as the significance of the latter feast has grown in the course of history. Both are family celebrations which involve good food and beer. Similarly to kekri, the spirits of the ancestors for said to visit the living during joulu and sauna was heated for them. Also, luck for the new year was ensured by various customs on both kekri and joulu, and the future was also forecasted in many ways on both occasions.

On joulu, straws – also conifer twigs in some places – were spread on the floor and a decoration made from straws, called himmeli, was hung from the ceiling. The master of house poured a welcoming drink to one sheaf before it was opened and spread on the floor. The master of the house also threw straws between the roof and crane log. If a lot of straws got stuck there, the harvest would be good. If little straw stuck to the roof, the next year would be bad.

Traditional joulu had two elements that have remained strong in the contemporary Finnish culture: sauna and food. Sauna was considered a sacred placed, as is proven by the large number of sayings comparing sauna to a church. The spirit and body were purified in sauna before beginning a feast.

The joulu sauna was heated early so that everyone could wash up before dark and dress clean clothes for the joulu banquet. Foods were placed on the table before sauna in the the same way as in kekri, so that the dead could enjoy their joulu meal while the people bathed in the sauna. The master of the house was the last one to leave from sauna, and it was his duty to prepare everything so that the ancestral spirits could bathe there after the people left.

Foods needed to be offered also to the local spirits before people ate those foods. If a house had a sacrificial tree, small portion of every dish was set on the root of the tree. Food and liquor could also be taken to the barn, put on a bench and placed under the table as an offering. Only after the offerings were placed could people sit down and enjoy their banquet in good company.

Food was important on joulu because it symbolized the abundance of food on the next harvest. Traditional joulu foods include bread, meat dishes, beers and porridge. Foods were kept on the table for whole joulu, and, it was said that if even one dish run out, the house would face poverty in the future. Even the poorer houses did everything they could to get plenty of good food on the table for joulu. Cattle and horses were also treated especially well on joulu, and only the best hay and sometimes even bread and drinks were given to them.

Anssi A. / Suomenusko

Read more about the Finnish folk religion and culture in English here 


One thought on “Merry Joulu!

  1. Pingback: Tapani is the day of the horsemen |

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