Kekri: Finnish Harvest Celebration
Kekri was traditionally the year’s biggest feast – the last and first day of the harvest year. By then field work was completed and livestock brought into winter shelters. It was time to enjoy from the harvest bounty, to ensure luck for the new year and to remember ancestor spirits. Many of Kekri’s beliefs and traditional customs were since transferred to Finnish Christmas.
Kekri was not traditionally celebrated on an exact date, in fact, the date varied from late summer to late autumn. Even the houses of the same parish might celebrate Kekri at different times. This was only natural because Kekri was held whenever a house completed their harvest work, and different houses got the work done on different times. In later times, date of celebration for Kekri was fixed to November 1st. The word ‘Kekri’ (also köyri, köyry, keyri ja keuri) comes from the Proto-Finno-Ugric *kekraj, meaning wheel or cycle.
Spells ensuring fertility of the fields and good luck for cattle, sheep and horses, were part of Kekri. On the night before Kekri, a sheep was sacrificed as an offering to the protector of domestic animals and the bones were placed in the sheep pen. The animals were given the very best food and the master of house personally fed his horses.
People woke up early on Kekri morning to heat the houses. Being awake early predicted vibrant spirits for the coming year. The unfortunate who woke up last was mocked and called ‘köyri’. In the morning people prepared flatbread bread, meat, fish, curds, milk and kama. Later a roast was made from potatoes, meat and sausages. Throughout the day people enjoyed some liquor and beer brewed specially for Kekri. The first parts of all the dishes were given as an offering to the spirits by leaving food to sacrificial trees or stones or in the barn.
It was said that food had to be offered to anyone who wanted to eat, regardless of whether they were familiar people or foreigners. Generosity brought good luck to the house. One was supposed to eat nine times, and food was not cleared away from the tables. It was customary that the master of the house got drunk, which would guarantee that crops would grow the next year. On the other hand, the person sowing the house’s seeds in the next spring was not allowed to be intoxicated, or otherwise crops would be ruined.
Children often travelled from house to house dressed as “köyri boogeymans”. A little more scarier version of this was the köyripukki dressed in a coat turned upside down. These visitors demanded something to eat and drink from the house. If they were not treated with hospitality, they threatened to break the oven. Often, however, an agreement was reached and the guests performed plays and dances.
Spirits of the ancestors were also believed to visit the living folk on Kekri. Sauna was warmed for the spirits with warm water, whisks, soaps and towels. After this the spirits were called to come and eat as the people went together to sauna. A table was left full of the best foods so that the ancestor spirits could “nourish in peace”.
Source: Suomenusko Translation: Anssi A.