Easter Witches

Whilst you are painting hollowed out eggs and rolling them down hills, or hiding chocolate eggs and bunnies around your garden, out here in Finland we are gluing feathers and bits of crepe paper to twigs and hiding from handing out sweets and money to children dressed as witches, a la halloween.

Or rather the handing out money and sweets bit is like halloween but the dressing up like nothing I’ve seen before.  Instead of masks, false noses and capes, these witches are dressed in old, outsized clothes; dresses, shawls and headscarves, with painted on freckles and rosy cheeks and a clutch of feathered and crepe papered birch twigs in their hands.

Once in your house, they recite a spell whilst waving one of the twigs and then swap you the decorated twig for some sweets or money which they collect in a copper pot.  And then they leave, on to the next house whilst your young children rip the twig apart, shreading crepe paper and feathers around your living room and poking each othe rin the eye with the stick remains carefuly place your spell endowed twig in a vase to keep it safe.

This is all that was left of our stick by the time I manage to rescue it from my children to take its photo.

Not speaking brilliant Finnish I’ve never been sure what the spell entails but I am told that it is a good spell.  Just as well, or I’d want want my mini eggs back.

For a fairly religious country, one where, certainly up here in the north, many don’t believe in contraception or premartial anything, having witches going door to door begging for treats at Easter seems pretty strange.

It stems back to an old belief, we’re talking back as far as the 1400’s here, about witches going to dance with the devil on the Saturday before Easter, which is when the witches usually come to visit.  The giving of treats and subsequant spell recitation whilst waving a befeathered and crepe papered stick at you is to guarantee you are kept out of their evil plotting, apparently.
Another old tradition around these witches, one that isn’t carried out so much anymore, is to light bonlight fires the eve of Easter Sunday and keep them burning through to the morning to ward off the witches evil as they fly back from their visit with the devil.

It isn’t clear whether the fires are made by those that didn’t give sweets or money whilst the generous/corrupt rest safe in the knowledge that their gift/bribe will have left them unscathed, or whether it is done by all as an extra precaution because, lets face it, can you really trust a witch?

Now that I think about it, one of them did have an evil glint in her eye as she left.  And I’m pretty sure there was a bit of cackling going on…

Where did I put those matches?

‘Come on children, time to help mummy gather some fire wood.’

Easter here is so much more stressfull than a good old Easter egg rolling contest.

Witch photo courtesy of riptheskull

40 Comments on Easter Witches

  1. gappysinglemum
    April 4, 2010 at 7:08 am (6 years ago)

    On closer inspection of your picture of the witch I can see that she is merely holding onto her cat, but at first glance it looks like she is making a rather rude gesture!

  2. Yappy
    April 4, 2010 at 7:13 am (6 years ago)

    I’m surprised they made it to your door with all that snow! I went to see one of my son’s new friends mums yesterday to find a long net sack of garlic hanging in her porch, which she agreed is to keep evil away (she is from Kosovo)… maybe I should send you some.

  3. DJ Kirkby
    April 4, 2010 at 7:29 am (6 years ago)

    Well at least you don’t have to explain the Easter bunny :) N3S is VERY suspicious and yesterday asked me how to bloody rabbit laid the eggs. *sigh* How indeed….

  4. Eoforhild
    April 4, 2010 at 7:48 am (6 years ago)

    I love reading about traditions in other parts of the world. Especially when they are as odd as that.

    The witch in the picture looks very jolly, much more like Mrs Claus on a broom than Elphaba.

    I wonder how people would react around here if I started going door to door reciting spells and giving people feather clad twigs.

  5. Dara
    April 4, 2010 at 7:54 am (6 years ago)

    We have no odd traditions here, really. Though I find it odd how some parents are having the “Easter Bunny” leave bikes and Wiis and things like that. I’d be shitting eggs too if I was expected to bring such presents!

  6. Steve
    April 4, 2010 at 8:49 am (6 years ago)

    I don’t care how evil the witches are, my chocolate is mine! Mine! Do you hear? MINE!

  7. MrsW
    April 4, 2010 at 9:09 am (6 years ago)

    I love this – it’s more reminiscent of a traditional Halloween from my childhood – not that awful Americanised crap we have now!

  8. Suze
    April 4, 2010 at 11:18 am (6 years ago)

    Sorry the comment about the rude hand gesture is what I keep focusing on- ha ha!
    Ahem – very interesting post, “there’s nowt as queer as folk…” as we say up North.

  9. Jen
    April 4, 2010 at 12:02 pm (6 years ago)

    This is really interesting, we sometimes assume that everyone has the same traditions, would ‘insular’ be the word? I love to hear information like this. My son will be home later and I will tell him about it, he will love it also:) Great post. Jen.

  10. vegemitevix
    April 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm (6 years ago)

    That is really random! Fascinating tradition, I’d love to know the history behind it. When you say Finland is a religious country, what religion do you mean?

  11. magicmummy
    April 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm (6 years ago)

    We all have some strange tradition don’t we. My little boy was scared to come downstairs this morning in case the Easter Dunny was still here!!!

  12. Susie Q
    April 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm (6 years ago)

    I have fond memories of this when I was a kid.. In fact, I did a post about it yesterday.. 😀 I still have pictures of all my Easter outfits, which are more or less the same from year to year. Shawl, cardigan, my mum’s skirt, random jumpers and jackets… :)

    But where’s your post about Mämmi? I mean, seriously…. That’s the weirdest traditional food Finland has ever had……. 😀


  13. Rosie Scribble
    April 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm (6 years ago)

    My daughter is into vampires at the moment. Perhaps we should move to Finland, for Easter at least!

  14. Single Motherhood Challenges
    April 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm (6 years ago)

    Aw it was lovely to read about a different countries tradtitions from another blogger! 😀

  15. diney
    April 4, 2010 at 8:16 pm (6 years ago)

    I love traditions in other countries – my daughter would love all the hallow’een type celebrations! Personally I’m feeling sick after all the chocolate I’ve consumed today!! Hope you’ve all had a great celebration, with or without chocolate.

    I’ve been having some trouble for the last month or so with lovely folk on my ‘followers’ list not knowing when I’ve posted as I’ ve not been appearing in their bloglists/rolls or whatever they are (!!) so I think some thought I’d given up to concentrate on my book…which I haven’t(!)…however I may have sorted it (with advice from son) in my settings area – would you mind letting me know how or if you know of my (once weekly) postings? Sorry to ask as I know you’re a busy blogger and mum but it’s so annoying to think I’m not getting the readers who have subscribed, and I need to check at a selection of blogs….does that sound a bit complicated and am I rambling?!!! ENDS. xxx Thanks Heather

  16. Insomniac Mummy
    April 4, 2010 at 10:44 pm (6 years ago)

    Aren’t other culture’s festival traditions fascinating?

    I watched a program over Christmas about Christmas traditions and loved all the myth and magic. I think somewhere at heart I must be nordic as it was their traditions that seemed the most enchanting.


  17. Charm City Barfly
    April 5, 2010 at 3:58 am (6 years ago)

    I did absolutely nothing for National Jesus Zombie Day. I sat on my stoop and drank wine from a solo cup. Yup, I have the life.

  18. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:08 am (6 years ago)

    ha ha ha, nothing gets between you and your chocolate huh?

  19. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:09 am (6 years ago)

    It is much nicer than halloween, which they don’t do here.

  20. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:10 am (6 years ago)

    nowt indeed. and she really does look like she is being rather uncouth…

  21. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:10 am (6 years ago)

    Gald you enjoyed it, we do assume that a lot, don’t we. Perhaps the Finns think we all have Easter witches?

  22. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:13 am (6 years ago)

    Random is what i do best 😉

    The main religion is Lutheran but there seems to be quite a high content of orthodox believers as well up here, where they believe that watching TV and listening to music is wrong, never mind premarital sex and contraception. These people do tend to be elderly folk but there are some youngsters too.

  23. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:13 am (6 years ago)

    Aww, bless him!

  24. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:14 am (6 years ago)

    I did contemplate a post on Mämmi but I just couldn’t find the right descriptive words

  25. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:16 am (6 years ago)

    I’m not sure we have vampires…how would you know? after the long winter we are all rather pale skinned and frightened of the light…and the Finns don’t seem that keen on garlic…my God, you couldn’t be on to something here! Maybe they are a nation of vampires!!!

  26. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:17 am (6 years ago)

    Glad you enjoyed it :)

  27. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:19 am (6 years ago)

    I know what you mean about the chocolate…if i ever see another Easter bunny…

    Your feed…i get your feed in google reader. It works for both those that i ‘follow’ on blogger and those that I subscribe to. although…these last 2 weeks i have been too busy to read many and not been commenting at all – forcing myself to concentrate on my other project until it is up and running. Normal service will hopefully be resumed with a week and i shall be back to reading and commenting on lots of posts.

  28. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:20 am (6 years ago)

    they do have some lovely traditions and the really nice thing about them is they still feel very traditional rather than over commercialised if you know what I mean.

  29. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 6:21 am (6 years ago)

    living the dream, huh? actually it sounds like a rather splendid way to spend Easter. Maybe next year I’ll come and join you.

  30. Yappy
    April 5, 2010 at 8:10 am (6 years ago)

    Heather the garlic thing is fairly common in coptic christian households, they also have ‘wicked eyes’ (we have been given some lovely ones – of blue and white glass intended to ward off evil. The garlic is used all year round, my friend’s has been up for a year and looking a bit manky (and smelly).

  31. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 8:17 am (6 years ago)

    wow, isn’t amazing how different countries work.

  32. TattieTats
    April 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm (6 years ago)

    What an interesting tradition. Does the Easter bunny come hopping around, too?

    We don’t paint hollowed out eggs, we hard boil them and then paint them. This way, we can eat them later.

    I have heard that the Easter bunny has developed quite a large budget, but our Easter bunny just left inexpensive trinkets and candy. Total cost for two baskets? $38 USD and the kids are thrilled.

  33. notesfromlapland
    April 5, 2010 at 1:34 pm (6 years ago)

    it is a bit different huh? no, they dont have the Easter bunny, at least i
    don’t think so, but they do have the easter eggs – although they tend to be
    the small mini kind not the big 40cm tall things.

    It’s frightening how much people spend on Easter gifts. not only are there
    birthdays and christmas but now Easter as well. what next?

  34. Guest
    April 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm (6 years ago)

    Wow – I think this is the second blog post I’ve read about Finnish sweet-soliciting witches this Easter and I’d never even heard of the custom before.

    I wonder if they actually can trace the custom back to the same root as Halloween trick-or-treating?

  35. notesfromlapland
    April 6, 2010 at 5:11 am (6 years ago)

    the 2nd one? cool! These Easter witches will be taking over soon lol. It
    is interesting isn’t it? I don’t know about the roots…there
    are apparently pictures of these witches be found dating back to the 1400’s

  36. Susie @ Newdaynewlesson
    April 6, 2010 at 6:34 am (6 years ago)

    Really???? And they still do the nude saunas and the supermarket sex toys????

  37. If I Could Escape
    April 7, 2010 at 11:43 pm (6 years ago)

    Gosh, how bizarre and wonderful all at the same time! Love reading when you blog about Finland and it’s traditions. =)

  38. notesfromlapland
    April 8, 2010 at 7:49 am (6 years ago)

    thank you my dear, i’m glad you enjoy it xx

  39. mj
    November 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm (4 years ago)

    Well, here’s my explanation – actually originally sent to a Canadian FB friend:

    The Easter tradition is quite an interesting thing: a mixture of East and West. In the Orthodox tradition children go around on Palm Sunday sharing previously blessed branches to neighbours, wishing them well for the coming year.

    In the Western lutheran/catholic tradition it used to be Easter Saturday (with Jesus being dead and powers of hell roaming freely) when children dressed as witches and went around blackmailing people about their livestock (bonfires were also lit in the evening for protection against the evil).

    Now, after the war and the evacuation of Karelians to the rest of the country the traditions got mixed and so children dress as witches on Palm Sunday and go around sharing self-made and definitely unblessed, protestant branches and well wishes in exchange for candy…

    Only my native Southern Ostrobothnia has kept true to the old Western tradition and we still have bonfires and withces on Easter Saturday. (And my nephews and nieces, and eventually our own children when they grow up a bit, will get a double portion of candy, first on Palm Sunday and then, if spending Easter in Ostrobothnia, on Easter Saturday too – very practical!)

  40. mj
    November 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm (4 years ago)

    ps. “blackmailing about livestock” was referring to an earlier reply – witches were thought to fly around and maim cattle during Easter Saturday, and children dressing as witches were a memory of that, and they pretended to hurt their neighbours’ livestock unless given candy or other gifts… All in all much helthier and more practical attitude than that overly positive, nice and pious Orthodox custom!


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