Finnish Easter Vocabulary – Hyvää pääsiäistä!
This article contains information about how Easter is celebrated in Finland and also a wide range of Finnish Easter vocabulary.
1. Hiljainen Viikko – Holy Week
The week before Easter is important for Christianity. In Finnish, we can call the Holy Week hiljainen viikko “quiet week”, piinaviikko “torment week”. The week starts on the Sunday before Easter: palmusunnuntai “Palm Sunday”. The days of this week all have their own special name.
The name of this day originates from the New Testament (Lucas 6: 41): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Kuinka näet rikan, joka on veljesi silmässä, mutta et huomaa malkaa omassa silmässäsi?
The word tikku means a small piece of sharp wood (e.g. hammastikku “toothpick”, jäätelötikku “ice cream stick”). The word is probably chosen because of the alliteration. On Holy Tuesday people whittled kindling from wood. Fire starters that were whittled on this day were believed to bring good luck.
1.3. Kellokeskiviikko ~ Tuhkakeskiviikko
The word kello in the name of this day refers to cowbells. On this day, cows were allowed out into the field, with a bell around their neck. In contrast, tuhka means “ash” and has a religious origin. On this day, Christians would sprinkle ashes over themselves as a sign of repentance. This day marked the start of the fasting period.
The word kiiras comes from the Swedish word “skära”, which means “to clean”. It’s the day Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Christians remember this day also because of Jesus’ last meal with his apostles. On kiirastorstai there a Mass in the churches.
In folkore kiira apparently also meant a kind of bad-luck creature that had to be banned from the village. This was done by circling the houses and fields making lots of noise and spreading smoke around.
For Christians, Friday is the day Christ died on the cross. Pitkä means long, and comes from the Swedish name of this day: långfredag. This day is a national holiday.
1.6. Lankalauantai ~ Hiljainen lauantai
On Saturday, people would wash and dye the yarn that was spun during winter. The word lanka means “yarn”. However, it’s said that the name of this day also originates from the Swedish name for Holy Friday (långfredag). Because of alliteration, lankalauantai sounds quite nice.
This day was quite ominous in folkore: it was the day evil forces were out and about, especially witches and trolls. Trolls were believed to come and milk the cows and cut fur off sheep, cows and sometimes even horses. Easter bonfires we burned to expel witches.
Another name for lankalauantai is hiljainen lauantai “quiet Saturday”, which is aptly named to remind Christians of the quiet day Jesus spent in the grave before recurrection.
1.7. Sukkasunnuntai ~ Pääsiäissunnuntai ~ Ensimmäinen pääsiäispäivä
Easter Sunday can be translated straight as pääsiäissunnuntai.
Sukka “sock” is used in the phrase olla sukkaisillaan which can mean to walk around on just your socks or, more idiomatically, to be quiet. It could also be used to refer to partying so hard that your socks fall off! You can also find some mention online of a tradition of going outside barefooted in your best clothes to go see the sun rise.
1.8. Toinen pääsiäispäivä
The Monday after Easter is a statutory holiday. It’s remembered as the day when Jesus showed himself to his apostles after rising from the grave.
2. Christian Easter Traditions in Finland
In Christianity (kristinusko) Easter has an important role, because it reminds Christians of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
- The Finnish word for crucifixion “ristiinnaulitseminen” looks really long, but it consists of the words risti “cross” and naulita “to pin, to nail”. The first part of the word ristiin appears in the mihin-form: “to the cross”.
- Likewise, the word resurrection “ylösnouseminen” is more transparent than the English word: ylös means “up” (the mihin-form again, so there’s a movement upwards) and nousta means “to rise”.
3. Finnish Easter Foods
In Finland, the Easter food you’ll hear the most about is mämmi, a traditional Finnish Easter dessert. It’s made from water, rye flour and malted rye. Then, there’s also pasha, which is a sweet dessert that originates from Russia. Please be careful with how you pronounce pasha so as not to confuse it with paska “shit”.
In addition to mämmi and pasha, Finns typically eat lamb meat for Easter. No Easter would be complete with chocolate eggs! For some Christians, fasting (Lent) is part of the Easter traditions.
4. Finnish Easter Traditions for Children
Children of course wait for the Easter bunny to show up with its chocolate eggs! “Bunny” is pupu in Finnish and “chick” is tipu.
One unusual thing about Easter in Finland is virvonta or virpominen. You could look at it as a sort of Easter trick-or-treating. This event takes place on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter week begins.
Children dress up as witches (noita) and go from door to door. At each door, they recite a rhyme (loru), after which they give the person opening a willow tree branch they’ve decorated with dyed feathers (höyhen), and get some sweets in return.
|to go trick-or-treat at Easter
5. Virvon Varvon – Easter Rhyme
There are many slightly different versions of the rhyme children recite when they go from door to door. The easiest one goes like this: Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle! “I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a treat for me!”
- Virvon is the minä-form of virpoa; a verb that specifically means wishing someone luck and health on Palm Sunday by waving a pussy willow twig and softly bumping a person with it. Varvon might just sound nice in the rhyme, I’m not sure what it means outside of this rhyme.
- Tuoreeks terveeks is the words tuore “fresh” and terve “healthy” in the translative case, meant to express a change in state (we’re wishing someone to become fresh and healthy)
- Tulevaks vuodeks “for the coming year” also has the words tuleva and vuosi in the translative case to express the year to come.
- Vitsa sulle “a twig for you” contains of the word vitsa which means a thin branchor twig. In this context, it means the pussy willow twig the children have decorated with dyed feathers. Sulle is the spoken language form of sinulle. The children give the twig to the person they’re blessing.
- Palkka mulle “a treat for me” has the word palkka “wages, pay, reward” and the spoken language form of minulle. The children general receive some sweets as a reward.
5. Useful Easter Sentences
|Pääsiäinen on minulle tärkeä juhla.
|Easter is an important celebration for me.
|Me vietämme pääsiäistä kotioloissa.
|We spend Easter at home.
|We craft Easter decorations.
|Etsin pääsiäismunia pihalta.
|I search for easter eggs in the yard.
|I found an easter egg!
|Let’s paint easter eggs!
|Pääsiäiskokko ajaa talven pois.
|The Easter bonfire drives winter away.
|I grow Easter grass.
|I sow Easter grass.
|Tykkään syödä mämmiä.
|I like to eat mämmi.
|En pidä mämmistä.
|I don’t like mämmi.
|Kaupoissa myydään mämmiä.
|Mämmi is sold in the stores.
|Pasha on makea pääsiäisherkku.
|Pasha is a sweet Easter treat.
|Let’s dress up and go bless people!
|Lapset pukeutuvat noidiksi.
|The children dress up as witches.
|Lapset kulkevat ovelta ovelle.
|The children go from door to door.
|Can we recite the rhyme for you?
|Narsissi on pääsiäisen kukka.
|The daffodil is the Easter flower.
|Jeesus tuomittiin kuolemaan.
|Jesus was sentenced to death.
|Jesus was crucified.
|Jeesus heräsi kuolleista.
|Jesus woke from the dead.
|Jotkut kristityt paastoavat.
|Some Christians fast.
Read more elsewhere
- Länsi-Uusimaa: Tiedätkö, mitä tarkoittavat tikkutiistai tai lankalauantai?
- Matti Mattila: Kellokeskiviikko
- Kotus: Laskiais- ja pääsiäisajan sanastoa
- Christian YouTube playlist: Pääsiäinen
That’s all for Finnish Easter vocabulary and a small look into the traditions that surround this holiday.