Kekri celebration at Loimaa, western Finland in 1972. Photograph: Museovirasto - Musketti
Kekri celebration at Loimaa, western Finland in 1972. Photograph: Museovirasto – Musketti

The modern All Saints’ Day is celebrated to commemorate the lost ones. Candles are lit in the graveyards, hugs are shared, a few tears may be dropped.

Originally, All Saints’ Day was celebrated as a celebration for gathered harvest, kekri, without a date in the calendar.

The end of harvest season varied from house to house. Kekri could be celebrated between late summer and autumn. Since the beginning of the 19th century, the day has been celebrated on November 1. (At present, the day is celebrated in Finland on a Saturday that fits between October 31 and November 6).

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In different Finnish dialects, kekri has also been known as keyri or köyri. The conjugated word “köyriä” is also a Finnish verb for sexual intercourse. According to one explanation, the origin of the word can be traced to old Finnish poems where the subject was about making the bull excited to impregnate the cow—an act known as köyriä.

All Saints' Day celebrations at Hietaniemi cemetary in 2014. Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today
All Saints’ Day celebrations at Hietaniemi cemetery in 2014. Photograph: Tony Öhberg/Finland Today

Big bonfires in the village have always been burned in kekri celebrations. Anything old was good for throwing into the fire, including old sleds and house parts.

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The villagers were also entertained by the village men (and sometimes children and women) who were dressed up as a köyripukki, a kind of boogeyman. According to the old folk wisdom, köyripukki visited the village houses dressed in a coat turned upside down demanding food and drinks. The best offer was hard liquor.

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Kekri celebration at Suomenlinna, Helsinki. Photograph: Pohjolanpoluilla
Kekri celebration at Suomenlinna, Helsinki. Photograph: Pohjolanpoluilla

If köyripukki was not treated with proper hospitality, it may have threatened to break the oven. Often an agreement was found.

After touring the village, köyripukki was usually found unexceptionally drunk.

A female version of köyripukki in 1927. Picture: Ahti Rytkönen / Museovirasto - Musketti
A female version of köyripukki in 1927. Picture: Ahti Rytkönen / Museovirasto – Musketti

Sources: Uusi ajantieto (WSOY), Old Finnish poems

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