Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter in Finland

The great thing about Easter in Finland is that it’s always a four-day weekend, thanks to the fact that, as the most important holy day in the Christian calendar, it’s also an official public holiday.  And it’s not just one holiday.  Besides Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Finland also celebrates Easter Monday, something unheard of in the Baptist church I was raised in. 

Practically everything shuts down here on those days (the Saturday in between being a normal day), especially all the stores – meaning you need to do some strategic grocery shopping if you want to make it from Thursday to the following Tuesday without resorting to an emergency run to the local gas station for milk or ketchup.  Or mämmi. 

Mämmi served with milk.
Mämmi is a dessert eaten only at Easter and most likely only in Finland and Sweden, and it has a distinctly ugly appearance that makes it the butt of quite a few jokes.  A thick, dark, pudding-like concoction made of malt, rye flour and molasses, mämmi is not the most appealing dessert you’ll ever see, but it is fact quite tasty.  Personally, though, I prefer the other Easter dessert, paskha, a white frothy custard introduced to Finland by the Russian Orthodox Church.  Still, the most popular Easter sweet has to be chocolate.  My favorite is the Mignon chocolate egg, produced only at Easter and as far as I know nowhere else than Finland.  The unique thing about this treat is that it’s a real, intact eggshell – filled with chocolate – that you peel as you would any hard-boiled egg. 

Being such a long holiday, Easter is a popular time for Finns to make a quick trip somewhere with the family.  We’ve occasionally used the four-day weekend for trips to Lapland, where there’s often still plenty of snow for some late-season skiing.  I have friends who are doing that right now, though as late (and warm) as Easter is this year, I have to think the skiing might be a little dodgy right now, even that far north. 

The presence of snow on the ground is just another difference between the holiday here the Easters of my youth in Georgia.  When our children were young, they did their Easter egg hunting inside the house for the simple reason that searching for chocolate eggs in the snow outside just isn’t all that fun, or challenging.  They tend to stand out against all that white snow.  Another difference is the trick-or-treating that takes place on Palm Sunday, when children – mostly girls – dress as witches to go door-to-door exchanging decorated pussy-willow switches for candy.  The connection between this and the crucifixion of Jesus still escapes me.  But, then again, you can say the same about the Easter Bunny and dyed hard-boiled eggs. 

Mignon chocolate egg starting to hatch.
Photo by Tiia Monto.
Even in secular Finland, Easter does also have a religious side.  It might be one of the few times during the year that many people actually step into a church, though based on the televised service I saw on Friday, it’s not anything like at capacity crowds.  The Orthodox church – which, to be honest, tends to exhibit a bit more flair than the Lutherans do – makes the celebration more participatory.  Part of the Orthodox Easter ritual is for the entire congregation to chant and bear lit candles as they follow their priest in a procession circling the church several times.  It can be quite a spectacle, though I have to confess I’ve only seen it on TV occasionally.  In my family, we have concentrated only on the cocoa- and sugar-based rituals of what is a thankfully long holiday. 

Happy Easter, everyone!


  1. Wow! I'd KILL for one of those chocolate eggs! I'm a chocoholic in my old age. I could take it or leave it in my youth, but around the age of 35 or so I developed a craving for the stuff. I have to limit myself.

    The maami looks really good! I wouldn't mind trying some of that, too.

    Easter was something I barely recognized as a young person since I was raised completely without religion. We did do some of the stuff--such as a picnic with an Easter egg hunt (which I liked as a very small boy), but these were strictly secular affairs. I don't think I so much as entered a church building until I was about nine years old and then it was only out of curiosity and I was totally horrified by what I witnessed.

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  2. We've just had a couple today at lunch that I brought from Finland. We thought the shell was sweet so got a bit of a surprise! I was introduced to Mamme by my friend Anne when in Salo but refused to try it as it looks ghastly. My Mother used to make paskha for Russian Easter (a bit later than in the West) but I actually found it a bit cheesy. What I did love was going to the Russian Easter service at midnight as a child and following that procession. They would chant "Xristos Vaskresi" meaning Christ has Risen. Then we would go home to a middle of the night meal of paskha, kulich (sort of bun cake) and painted egss. Your post brought back so many childhood memories:-)

  3. Kamala blogi. Tai oikeastaan aika tylsä. Anteeksi nyt.

  4. I am positive you must know this, but the Easter "trick-or-treating" is not a Christian tradition, it is a pre-existing pagan one that was absorbed into Easter because it takes place at the same time of year. They are literally dressed as "little witches" who will say a blessing if you give them a treat, or a curse if you don't.