Kekri and Samhain


It’s the last day of October and Halloween tonight. With our children grown up and the grandchildren in England this year, I have made no effort to celebrate this occasion here at home. Erika, now living at home again, did carve a pumpkin and I still have a small tabletop display of fall squash, ornamental corn and colourful leaves from Thanksgiving.

I’m the Halloween grinch I guess, and I’m feeling grinchier than ever as I get older (and my knee is bugging me). I dislike the commercialism and all that cheap candy and junk food that is expected as handouts. There are not many trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood anymore so that the the doorbell rings at rare and long intervals over a three hour period. The late ones are teenagers coming from other neighbourhoods who should not even be calling at their age! So, we turn off all the lights, except in a couple of rooms in the back of the house where we sit at our computers, read and chat. (The current events, especially the US elections are stressing us out, and we’re not even able to vote!) End of rant.

Yet, I enjoy reading about the history of many of our traditions. That history sounds far more interesting than today’s version and I have written a little about those in the past. Something relatively new to me is the ancient Finnish tradition of Kekri:

In ancient Finnish religion, a feast day marking the end of the agricultural season that also coincided with the time when the cattle were taken in from pasture and settled for a winter’s stay in the barn. Kekri originally fell on Michaelmas, September 29, but was later shifted to November 1, All Saints’ Day. In the old system of reckoning time, Kekri was a critical period between the old and new years when the ancestor spirits came to visit their former homes. The living accordingly held feasts honouring the dead. Food and drink were left for the spirits, the sauna was heated, and the dead were referred to as “holy men.” The feast was generally restricted to the members of the family, but in some areas the occasion was also marked by the common sacrifice of a sheep by the men of the entire village.

To me, Kekri sure sounds like Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Samhain, Day of the Dead, all rolled into one. It fascinates me how many of the old folk customs in different countries are so similar, and I’ve merely touched on the surface of the European ones only. As we all know, Christianity came along and changed some of the dates and many traditions, as finally did the influx of the American Halloween customs so that now they are even more similar.

So, my little Halloween token to you all is this deliciously scary poem that my long-time blog friend Anna of Self-Winding shared in a comment last year (thanks again, Anna!):

Here’s a witchy poem for you, one my uncle used to recite to us when we were little:

One moonlit night on Halloween

The foulest witch you’ve ever seen,
Came riding a broom between her knees,

Over the silver fields and trees.

I hailed the witch,

I heard her shout

Her laugh was wild as she turned about..

”I’ll tell you feee and I’ll tell you fooo,

I must have salt for my devil’s brew,
And the salt shall come from the tears you’ll shed
When I tell of the day when the world is dead.

Then he’d send us out to get wood from the shed in the dark!

P.S. My Finnish readers may be interested in some more in-depth discussion of kekri, with links, at Taivaankannen takojat, an interesting blog about the old Finnish beliefs.

October 31, 2008 in Canada and BC, Culture, Finland, Estonia & Finno-Ugric by Marja-Leena