The Easter Witch? Yes, that’s what I said! There was an interesting AP article by Matti Huuhtanen that I found a few years back entitled “Little Witches in Finland Cast Good Spells Before Easter.” Needless to say, it got my attention.
I did a little digging in cyberspace and this is what I found. Apparently there is an unique and unusual tradition in Finland that involves little girls dressing up as witches and going door to door on either Palm Sunday (by children from Orthodox families in Southeast Finland), or Holy Saturday (by kids from the Lutheran families of Western Finland).
Children’s culture expert Reeli Karimäki of the Pessi Children’s Art Centre in Vantaa, had this to say abut the tradition: “In the most popular family tradition, young children (especially girls) dress up as Easter witches, donning colorful old clothes and painting freckles on their faces. “The little witches then go from door to door, bringing willow twigs decorated with colorful feathers and crepe paper as blessings to drive away evil spirits, in return for treats.”
Later, she adds “This Finnish children’s custom interestingly mixes two older traditions – a Russian Orthodox ritual where birch twigs originally represented the palms laid down when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; and a Swedish and Western Finnish tradition in which children made fun of earlier fears that evil witches could be about on Easter Saturday.”
In the AP article, Matti Huuhtanen wrote “Ethnologists say Finland’s Easter practices came from the eastern region of Karelia, where Russian traditions were strong even when it was a part of Finland. Farmers in Karelia for centuries have taken pussy willows in lieu of palm leaves to their neighbors on Palm Sunday as a gesture of blessing.”
The candy of choice is chocolate foil wrapped Easter eggs which are placed in a copper pot the “little witches” carry with them. They also sometimes receive money, in the form of coins, as the treat. Those who make a donation are given a blessed willow branch in return.
I find this activity delightful and quite unique. The Pagan and Christian elements of this tradition live happily side by side and no one in Finland seems to bat an eye. It gives me hope that we can appreciate one another’s spring equinox celebrations, no matter what they may be!
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