In Finland, Easter is a rather secular festival, although the Good Friday and the Monday following the Easter Sunday, called the Second Easter Day, are both public holidays.
Most Christian Finns are members of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, the national church of Finland, and only 1 %
of the population are members of the Orthodox Church. Yet the Orthodox Church is the second national church of Finland and the influence of Orthodox Easter traditions on Finnish ones are significant.
Nowadays the Lutherans even attend the Easter night service in Orthodox churches in such large numbers, that there are
often more of them present along with curious tourists than Orthodox people.
Some parishes even have to hand out tickets to their members in order to ensure their admittance to the service.
For the Orthodox, Easter is the most important festival of the year.
Read more about Orthodox Easter here.
Easter in the Lutheran church
Easter week, or Holy Week, precedes Easter. In church services, the sufferings of Christ and his crucifixion are remembered on every day of this week.
On Maundy Thursday, the parishioners take part in the Holy Communion. On Good Friday, the crucifixion, death and burial of Christ are commemorated.
On Easter Sunday, Christ has risen from the dead, and the "triumph of love and light over darkness" is proclaimed.
Those who do not attend church services, may still like to go and see special Passion plays reconstructing the Easter events in the life of Jesus. These plays have become very popular in Finland recently and are performed on the streets of many cities.
In picture on left: The Lutheran cathedral in Helsinki.
Sung Passion performances are common in Lutheran churches where people flock to hear the St. John Passion or the St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach. The texts of these are based on the account of the Passion and death of Jesus according to the gospels of Saint John and Saint Matthew.
These concerts often attract people to church more than their Easter services.
Whereas the Orthodox emphasize the joyful message of Easter, the resurrection of Christ, the Lutherans, on the other hand, have a more pious attitude toward it, emphasizing the suffering of Christ.
This attitude has brought on many restrictions concerning the popular customs, especially on Good Friday, when it was forbidden to work, to visit friends or to cook. Many public amusements were restricted by special legislation, which has only recently been eased.
Celebrating of Easter at home
Compared to Christmas, Easter is not as enthusiastically celebrated among the Lutheran Finns.
Instead of the true message of Easter, the growing commercialism around the feast is making Easter more popular. Stores are filled with colourful Easter-kitsch including bunnies, chicks and chocolate Easter eggs, especially appealing to children.
Children at home, schools and kindergartens are kept busy with all sorts of Easter activities from making Easter cards to decorating pussy willow twigs and dyeing and decorating of eggs.
Before Easter, some Finnish families may decorate their houses with ornaments and things connected with Easter. Planting rye grass in pots and bringing in tree twigs that start to bud symbolize the rebirth of life after winter and the coming of spring.
Easter cards are sent to relatives and friends. This custom became popular in the 1880s. The illustrations on Easter cards range from fluffy bunnies and little chicks to more religious themes.
On Easter Sunday, some families gather together to have Easter dinner, serving the traditional lamb along with other Easter specialities, some of them borrowed from the Orthodox tradition.
Christian and pagan traditions
Like in other Christian countries, the Easter traditions in Finland have both pagan and Christian elements.
On Palm Sunday, the children of Orthodox families in southeastern Finland have a custom of going from door to door to wish their relatives and neighbours God's blessing by whisking blessed willow twigs at them. In return, they are offered candy and sweets. On Easter Sunday, they will get beautifully decorated Easter eggs and chocolate eggs from their relatives.
In western Finland, on the other hand, children of Lutheran families have a custom of dressing up like witches on Holy Saturday, when evil spirits and witches (called trulli in Finnish) were believed to roam around, doing all kinds of mischief. Large bonfires were burnt to dispel them, and this custom is still practised today.
Note: Easter witch is a popular character in the Nordic Easter tradition. In Finland and Sweden alike, it was believed that witches, who were mainly old, malicious women envious of other people, were flying around on brooms, hurting cattle and doing other mischief.
Today, they are most often represented as scarf-clad women riding a broom, accompanied by a black cat and a copper coffee pot.
Nowadays these two traditions are quite heedlessly mixed, and little witches whisking willow twigs can be seen toddling around throughout the country on Palm Sunday.