Sunday, April 4, 2010
Easter in Finland or the Quest for the Happy Hippo!
Easter is an important holiday in Finland and less commercial than in the United States, but there are some common ingredients including chocolate eggs (suklaamunat).
We celebrated Easter in eastern Finland with our friends Matti, Tiina, Iida and Tuuli. Matti and Chris are friends from Chris' senior year in high school when Matti was an exchange student at the same school.
On pitkäperjantai, Good Friday or long Friday in Finnish, we caught a 7 AM train to Joensuu. It is a long journey across Finland and we arrived in Joensuu at 2 PM. To prepare for Easter and our visit to our friends, I had gathered some Easter baskets with treats for the children. Easter baskets are not part of Easter in Finland, but there is an egg hunt in the house on Easter morning. In my Easter baskets I had included a Kinderegg and a Fazer egg for each child. I had no idea these eggs would be such a big hit! We learned from Iida that she was hoping to get a Happy Hippo from a Kinderegg so the girls were gleefully cracking Kindereggs looking for Happy Hippos with no luck at first...
All the shops and businesses are closed on pitkäperjantai. My Finnish teacher said that in the past you couldn't even find a restaurant on Good Friday and she and her brother weren't allowed to play outside since running and laughing were discouraged.
After checking into our hotel we went to Matti and Tiina's for dinner and the girls opened their first kindereggs--no Happy Hippo! We also sampled the Fazer eggs. These eggs appeared in the shops just before Easter and will disappear again until next year. They are real egg shells that have been blown out and filled with a chocolate hazelnut filling and the hole in the egg shell has been resealed with sugar. They are amazing.
On Saturday the shops were open again. It's a good thing that shops are open on Saturday since everything shuts again for Sunday and Monday. We went around the craft shops in Joensuu and saw the Orthodox church and then had coffee at Matti and Tiina's with their special guest, Timo. Timo teaches with Matti and is Orthodox. He would be singing that night in the Orthodox church and came over to tell us about the service.
There are two official tax supported religions in Finland, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox. Timo told us that after Finnish independence from Russia, the Orthodox Church in Finland became an autonomous archbishopric of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. He explained that the service would begin at 11:30 and there would be 3 services going until 2:30 AM. The church is small so he told us to arrive at about 11 and to buy a candle when we entered. Timo explained that the service would be held in the dark until midnight when the screen would be thrown open to show the brightly lit altar that would echo the light in the open tomb. He also said that people would pass the flame back through the congregation from candle to candle.
At the coffee with Timo we ate pasha, mämmi, karelian rice pastries, and a chocolate cake that I had found in the kauppatori in Turku. I also bought each girl 2 more kindereggs in the hopes of finding a Happy Hippo. No luck on the hippo!
Sophia spent the night with Iida and Tuuli and Chris, Tiina and I met to go to the Orthodox service at 11. Following Timo's advice, we entered the church and purchased our beeswax candles. There are no pews in an Orthodox church, but there were benches around the walls. Where the church widened for the transept, there was an icon in a glass case on a stand. People entering would reverence the icon and then kiss the glass. It was a beautiful depiction of Christ rising from the tomb.
Some of the women wore long skirts and scarves. Tiina surmised that the women in more conservative dress were Russian. Others were in jeans. Some people entered carrying baskets of baked goods. Pasha and dyed red eggs were arrayed at the front of the church. In an Orthodox church the altar is behind a screen that is covered in depictions of the saints. More and more people entered the small church and the service started at 11:30 in the dark with the priest chanting few words, but the choir leader and the choir doing most of the chanting and singing. I could only make out a few words--most importantly "anteeksi" which means forgive me or forgiveness. The priest stood facing the screen with his back to the congregation and towards the end of the service turned around. The doors to the altar were thrown open and I was momentarily blinded by the light at the altar.
People started turning to light the candles of those behind with the flame passed from the altar and a procession formed down the center of the church with first a lantern, then a large cross, then banners and men carrying larger icons with children carrying smaller icons. The choir came after the icons and then the clergy with the priest swinging incense. We followed out and were part of the procession with our candles as we circled the church. People were singing and the crowd seemed to swell as those outside joined as well. We did not enter the church for the next two services, but after the service ended on the porch we headed back to our hotel.
On Sunday morning Matti brought Sophia to our hotel so we could catch our train back to Turku. They had big news! Sophia and Tuuli both found Happy Hippos in the egg hunt. Fortunately Iida was taking this turn of events well.
We are now back in Turku, tired and happy. Tomorrow we will go to an Easter party hosted by a member of our congregation here.