How about spending your next Easter in Finland?
Many overseas travellers seem to overlook the late winter / early springtime in the Nordics, however it is a fantastic time to visit the region. There are less crowds and there is still plenty of snow in the north and sunshine in the south. Furthermore, there are certain foods and traditions that you will not come across any other time of the year!
Having grown up in Finland, memories of Easter are filled with beautiful sunny days full of outdoor activities (in temperatures between +2 and -5 which is actually really lovely when sunny - and dressed properly!), not to mention the unusual foods and traditions that only belonged to Easter. Take a look at some of the things you may see and experience when visiting Finland during Easter time.
A certain sign that it is Easter in Finland is the abundance of mämmi in supermarkets and people's homes (surely also in hotels!). This is a traditional Easter dessert made from rye flour, malted rye, molasses and orange zest, eaten with milk or cream, and you usually either love it or hate it. It is thick, sweet and black - if you can get over the highly suspicious appearance, you may well end up loving it! It has been a part of Finnish Easter traditions since the 13th century and it is likely to stay that way.
Another traditional Easter dessert in Finland is pasha (also spelt paskha or pascha). Originally a Russian dish, it is made primarily from quark (curd cheese, a popular ingredient in Finnish cooking), but can also contain butter, eggs, sour cream, raisins, almonds, vanilla and other spices. It is made into a delicious, smooth dessert usually enjoyed cold. For me, having pasha for dessert was always one of the highlights of Easter!
Another traditional and somewhat strange Easter delicacy in Finland is the uunijuusto (oven cheese). It is supposed to be made from cow's colostrum, the first milk drawn from a cow after it has given birth and baked in the oven with a pinch of salt until it has become firmer and has a nice, brown surface. Understandably, it is a somewhat rare delicacy, but a similar end result can also be achieved by using normal milk and eggs. It is typically eaten as a dessert with jam or berries, such as orange cloudberries.
The final weird and wonderful Easter treat on our list is mustamakkara (blood sausage), which is usually eaten with lingonberry jam. It is made by mixing flour and crushed rye with pig blood and pork and formed into a sausage. Like mämmi, blood sausages are fairly black in colour and the appearance may put off some less adventurous souls. However, most people seem to love it! Lucky for those, it is possible to buy mustamakkara also outside of Easter, especially if you are in Finnish city of Tampere, it's birthplace and official home.
The Finnish Easter is certainly not all about chocolate and Easter bunnies. It is a colourful affair with painted eggs, decorated willow branches, and witches - at least if there are children around! Indeed, somewhat similar to Halloween, Easter in Finland is partly a dress up party: Children dress up as colourful, friendly witches the Sunday before Easter (Palm Sunday) and walk from door to door in their neighbourhood. At each door they recite a poem ("Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle" which can be roughly translated as "I wave a branch for freshness and health for next year; here a branch for you, a reward for me") and they give away willow branches that they have decorated themselves and receive some sweets in exchange.
Accordingly, most houses will have willow branches adorned with colourful feathers and small decorations that brighten up the kitchen or dining room. They are thought to help the arrival of spring after the long winter. This desire to celebrate colour and the arrival of Spring is also evident in other traditional Easter decorations: People buy yellow daffodils for their houses and children grow deep green rye grass on plates (with only wet toilet paper laid down under the seeds). Once the grass has grown tall enough, it is often decorated with bright yellow little toy chicks.
For many others, Easter is also a great time to do that one last trip to Lapland's downhill ski resorts before the snow melts away again. It is the perfect time for both snow and sun - a lovely mixture of cold, crisp weather and the warm sun. It is also a great time to take that last dog sledding or snowmobiling trip! What an unforgettable way to spend Easter!
Read here for our Finland tours over Easter.
Image Credits: Tim Gouw and Antti Haanpää/Yle