After the chores of the harvest are completed the old year ends and we welcome in the new year.
Pre-Christian Finns celebrated the feast of Kekri usually between September 29th and November 1st, between St. Michael’s Day and All Hallow’s Day for those of you keeping track with a Christian calendar. Why the amorphous timing? Each household would feast once they were finished with harvest, brought in the cattle for the winter, and had otherwise prepared by brewing beer, distilling liquor, and slaughtering a lamb. Cattle were auctioned and servants had their one free week of leisure – some would seek a new household at this time. Landowners were obligated to invite the peasant sharecroppers to the manor for a meal.
Kekri has been called a guardian spirit of cattle and fertility. It was said that the feast guaranteed a good harvest and healthy livestock in the coming year if the spirits were pleased. The ancestors were honored as well, as they are the guardians of the household and ensure prosperity. Along with the more somber rites, as well as feasting and merry-making around a bonfire, a bachelor (or two, for a four-legged buck) would dress as a Kekripukki by turning their fur coats inside out and fashioning horns. Other unmarrieds would portray various spirits. They would travel house to house and expect to be feted just as they pleased.
Tradition had it that the drunker the father of the household was, the better the barley and rye harvests. The mother, of course, had to stay more sober to ensure the feast table was full for the Kekripukki and his entourage and the sauna fire was hot for the ancestors who had the honor of bathing first.
The traditional feast was often smoked lamb. It was eaten with great care and sometimes the bones were run around the cattle barn three times for luck before they were buried in the sheep stable to ensure good lambing the next spring. Food offerings were placed for the ancestors at the base of a sacred tree and the spirits were recognized with sustenance in the stables, sauna or barn so they would not be tempted to do mischief. This festival time was not considered part of the new or the old year and was special as the veil was thin between the worlds.
As Christianity muddled traditions (beginning in the 12th century), the celebration of the new year moved to January and the Kekripukki morphed into the Joulupukki (St. Nicholas) of modern Christmas. Forecasting with molten tin dribbled into a bucket of water also moved to the modern New Year’s Eve celebrations. Kekri itself has moved to October 31st, if it is even acknowledged, and shares many features of Halloween. The last time it was officially celebrated was in 1954 in Kokemäki. Today Finnish holiday traditions are a blend of their own ancient pagan, Eastern Byzantine Orthodoxy and Lutheran Christianity.
Since we don’t happen to have a lamb to slaughter nor are we allowed to distill anything, we’ll be enjoying some lihapyörykät (Finnish meatballs) with wild mushroom gravy, our own harvest vegetables, sweet rye malt bread and home-brewed kotikalja (malt beer). When? Well, when we’re done with our chores … and the beer is ready.
Here’s wishing everyone a prosperous harvest and a Happy Halloween!