Easter is the most important spring celebration, and its Christian traditions relate to the end of Lent. Easter traditions also have roots in pre-Christian festivities, however, and these are closely connected to nature. In the pre-Christian era, the end of winter and arrival of spring was celebrated at the time of Easter.
One tradition is virpominen, in which touching another with branches brings good luck. You would wake your family members and neighbours up by hitting them lightly with willow branches. In some parts of Finland, willow catkins have also been known as “palms”. This is a reference to the Christian tradition, according to which Jesus was greeted with palm branches when he arrived to Jerusalem for the last time. Because there are no palms in northern countries, the branches of other trees have been used instead. Willows are suitable for this because they are the first trees to start growing in the spring.
After virpominen, the branches were left in the house to bring you luck. Later they would be given to shepherd boys when the cows and sheep were put out to pasture for the first time.
Even though virpominen is connected to Eastern cultural heritage and the traditions of Orthodox church, decorating branches and greeting others with them has been popular all over Finland. According to the ethnologist Kustaa Vilkuna, the spreading of the tradition resulted from the expansion of the elementary school system. Teachers included the making of decorated branches in their curricula while downplaying the religious references. Similar traditions take place in other parts of the world as well: children or adolescents go from house to house showing the first green branch – the miracle of spring.
In the picture, students of the Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary pick willow branches in 1922.
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