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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.

Finnish English
pääsiäinen Easter
hiljainen viikko Holy Week
piinaviikko Holy Week
palmusunnuntai Palm Sunday
malkamaanantai Holy Monday
tikkutiistai Holy Tuesday
kellokeskiviikko Holy Wednesday
kiirastorstai Holy Thursday
pitkäperjantai Holy Friday
lankalauantai Holy Saturday
sukkasunnuntai Easter Sunday
pääsiäissunnuntai Easter Sunday
pääsiäismaanantai Easter Monday
toinen pääsiäispäivä Easter Monday

1.1. Malkamaanantai

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?

1.2. Tikkutiistai

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.

1.4. Kiirastorstai

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.

1.5. Pitkäperjantai

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 crucifixionristiinnaulitseminen” 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 resurrectionylösnouseminen” 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”.
Finnish English
kristinusko Christianity
ristiinnaulitseminen crucifixion
ylösnousemus resurrection
Jeesus Jesus
Kristus Christ
paasto fasting
paastoaika Lent

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.

Finnish English
pääsiäismuna Easter egg
suklaamuna chocolate egg
mämmi mämmi
lammas lamb
lampaanliha mutton
lammaspaisti roasted lamb
pasha paskha

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.

Finnish English
pääsiäispupu Easter bunny
tipu chick
munajahti egg hunt
askartelu crafting
koriste decorations
rairuoho Easter grass
virvonta Easter trick-or-treat
pääsiäisnoita Easter witch
virpoa to go trick-or-treat at Easter
virpoja Easter trick-or-treater
pajunkissa pussy willow
pajunkissavitsa willow twig
virpomisoksa willow twig
palkkio reward
makeisia sweets
pääsiäisloru Easter rhyme

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

Finnish English
Iloista pääsiäistä! Happy Easter!
Pääsiäinen on minulle tärkeä juhla. Easter is an important celebration for me.
Me vietämme pääsiäistä kotioloissa. We spend Easter at home.
Askartelemme pääsiäiskoristeita. We craft Easter decorations.
Etsin pääsiäismunia pihalta. I search for easter eggs in the yard.
Löysin pääsiäismunan! I found an easter egg!
Maalataan pääsiäismunia! Let’s paint easter eggs!
Pääsiäiskokko ajaa talven pois. The Easter bonfire drives winter away.
Kasvatan rairuohoa. I grow Easter grass.
Kylvän rairuohoa. 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.
Mennään virpomaan! 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.
Saammeko virpoa? 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.
Jeesus ristiinnaulittiin. Jesus was crucified.
Jeesus heräsi kuolleista. Jesus woke from the dead.
Jotkut kristityt paastoavat. Some Christians fast.

Read more elsewhere

That’s all for Finnish Easter vocabulary and a small look into the traditions that surround this holiday.

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In English, Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday at the beginning of Lent, not the Wednesday of Holy Week. Is that not what Tuhkakeskiviikko refers to in Finnish?

Inge (admin)

You’re right, tuhkakeskiviikko is indeed Ash Wednesday, my bad!