Kekri also known as köyri, köyry and keyri, might not be the best known pagan holiday, but it has a strong history and many traditions related to Kekri have been transferred to modern day celebrations.
In short, Kekri is a Finnish harvest festival, with roots deep in the European agriculture. Kekri was a celebration of the harvest but also the celebration of the new year. The essence of Kekri was a getaway from work and feasting with the freshly collected harvest. If someone was left hungry, it meant that the next year’s harvest would be thin.
Harvest festival is one the oldest seasonal traditions because it was strongly linked to the end of harvest. The circulation of the seasons dominated the way people saw the world and harvesting the gifts of the nature was one of the biggest celebrations in the year. The preparations for Kekri lasted the whole summer until the last day of harvest. In the beginning there was no specific date for Kekri, and every farm celebrated the festival whenever they finished their year’s work. Eventually, the day landed more towards All Saint’s day, in the beginning of November.
Before the modern calendars, it was natural to start the year from where the previous harvest year ended. Kekri was the celebration of the end and the beginning of the new year. Kekri comes from the old Finnish word kekra or kekraj, which means wheel or circular. All the way to 19th century, people in the countryside lived in their own time, celebrating Kekri new year, even though the modern calendar was already established in the cities.
One of the traditions was that the young people dressed up as Kekripukki (men) and Kekritär (women). Kekritär was wearing all white from head to toe, as they were portraying ghosts. Kekripukki was wearing a fur that was turned inside-out. Spoons, shears or other accessories were attached to the fur as they travelled from house to house, asking for beer and food. If they were turned around at the door, they could threaten to break something.
In addition to the Kekripukki and Kekritär, people believed that spirits were also roaming around the farms. It was believed that during Kekri, the ancestors came to see how well the farm was taken care of. Dressing up as a Kekripukki and Kekritär, the young people blended in with the other spirits. It was possible that there were evil spirits among the ancestors, so it was important to burn fires to keep those away who were not welcomed. Some people used torches but other also carved turnips to use them as lanterns. Remembering the dead was a part of Kekri, as it is now a part of Halloween.
It was believed that the border between the spirit world and the mundane world was at its thinnest during Kekri. Interacting with the dead was easiest during this time. Why the border was thinner, was because the circulation of the sun and the moon was not balanced after a year. Before a full year had passed, there was a period called jakoaika (freely translated split period) between the Kekri new year and when the natural cycle of the sun had gone full circle. This period lasted around 12 days, and during this time, people lived between two years. It was believed that this was the best time to divination, foreseeing the future, spells and taking time off work.
Kekri is seen as the ancestor of Halloween, but a lot of the Kekri traditions were also moved to Christmas, when the popularity of Christmas grew in Finland. Kekripukki became Joulupukki (Santa Claus), and feasting and having a longer holiday around the festival transferred to Christmas as well.
Read more from Kekri.fi (In Finnish)