Here’s What You Didn’t Know About the Wild History of ‘All Saints’ Day’ in Finland
The essence of modern All Saints’ Day is about commemorating the lost ones. Candles are lit at the graveyards, hugs shared, a few tears dropped. It’s also the first double holiday after a long autumn without official celebrations marked in the calendar.
However, this wasn’t the case in the 1950s when All Saints’ Day was one of the days that happened in the middle of the week. Labor unions, such as SAK, saw this as a threat to the Finnish commerce and industry sectors.
The unions demanded that any religious holiday celebrated mid-week needed to become a holiday on Saturday instead. After the church accepted this, the parliament gave the initiative its blessings. Since 1955, the calendar was altered and Finland has celebrated its midweek-holidays on Saturday.
“Köyriä” is also a Finnish term for sexual intercourse.
Originally, All Saint’s Day in Finland was celebrated as a harvest festival, kekri. At first kekri was celebrated when the harvest had been gathered, and it had no set date in the calendar.
The end of harvest season varied from house to house—even in the same village—so celebrations could happen between late summer and autumn. The celebration also marked the beginning of the next year. Since the beginning of 1800, the day was permanently attached to November 1, when All Saints’ Day was usually celebrated.
Many believed that the more drunk the farm owner got, the better would the next year’s harvest be.
In different Finnish dialects, kekri has also been known as keyri or köyri. The latter “köyriä” is also a Finnish term for sexual intercourse. According to one explanation, the origin of the word can be traced to old Finnish poems where they tried to make the bull excited to impregnate the cow, an act known as “köyriä.”
Alcohol has always played a big part of harvest festivals. By boozing up, the peasants rewarded themselves for working all summer. Many believed that the more drunk the farm owner got, the better would the next year’s harvest be. On the contrary, if the farm owner passed out, the harvest would turn out bad.
Kekri celebrations also involved big bonfires in the village. Anything old was good for burning, including old sledges and house parts.
The villagers were also entertained by the village men (and sometimes children and women) dressed up as “köyripukki,” a kind of “köyri boogeyman.” According to the old folk wisdom, köyripukki visited the village houses dressed in a coat turned upside down. It demanded something to eat and drink from the house. The best offer was hard liquor.
If köyripukki was not treated with hospitality he threatened to break the oven. Often, however, an agreement was reached as this was also said to bring luck.
After touring the village köyripukki was usually found unexceptionally drunk.
Sources: Uusi ajantieto (WSOY), Old Finnish poems