The Defense of the Sampo - Akseli Gallen-Kallela
The Defense of the Sampo - Akseli Gallen-Kallela

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Kalevala Day – A Celebration of Finnish Culture

By , , updated on

Kalevala Day (Finnish Culture Day) is full of magic and it is celebrated in Finland on the 28th of February. The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, teaches ancient wisdom through the stories and spells of mythical heroes and heroines.

The Kalevala was compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology in the 19th century. The first version was first published in 1835 and it consists of thousands of verses, divided into fifty folk stories.

Lemminkäinen’s Mother by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, on display at Ateneum Museum, Helsinki. Gallen-Kallela’s masterful paintings are the most famous visual interpretations of the national epic.

Finnish folk poetry has a long history and its earliest forms may have existed thousands of years ago. Traditionally the poems and spells were sung or recited aloud using the Kalevala meter, a form of trochaic tetrameter. It’s an ancient technique used to memorize long stories without losing important words and content.

Throughout history, the best poem singers were the most respected and celebrated members of Finnish society. They could sing for days without stopping, and wherever they visited, they were always offered the best seat in the house.

Folk poems were sung with different melodies and manners. There were solo songs, duets and choir songs. Ordinary Finns used to sing the poems during their daily chores. Mothers sang to their children and fathers sang when they went fishing, hunting or working on the fields.

Unfortunately, the poem-singing tradition started to disappear after Finns started to learn reading and writing. Mythic poems disappeared and most of the other poems were reduced to small fragments. 

Thanks to Elias Lönnrot and the epic of the Kalevala, the poem-singing tradition was saved from extinction. Today the Kalevala has been translated into sixty-one languages and it is Finland’s most translated work of literature.

However, there are still a few people left who can sing these old poems in the ancient tradition. Here is a poem collected in Uhtua in 2011, from the State of Karelia (Russia). Source: @Taivaannaula.

“The words I chant are my own
Picked up from my path
Rubbed from the heads of straws
Cut out from heather
My father used to sing these
While carving the axe handle
My Mother used to teach me these
While spinning yarn
I was a child then
Playing beside her knee”

Kalevala Day is a national flag day in Finland and there are always a number of events that take place to celebrate the contribution of the Kalevala to Finnish national identity. Here are a few events that are happening this year:

Runesong Performance at Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki:

A special performance by ‘Vaskitsainen’ (Virve Kallio) of ancient epic Finnish rune songs, starting at 4 pm on 28.2.2019. Admission is included in the standard museum entry fee.  Don’t forget to see the museum’s collection of Kalevala themed paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, located on the second floor of the museum.

Kalevala Exhibition and Kalevala AI, Gallen-Kallela Museum, Espoo:

Kalevala, in other words‘ is an exhibition of works by Gallen-Kallela which is currently on-going in Espoo (Helsinki’s neighbour city) at the Gallen-Kallela museum.  On Kalevala Day there will also be a demonstration of AI technology using Kalevala poetry at DAIN studios.

The museum opens from 11 am to 4 pm, with AI demonstrations at 2 pm and 3 pm on 28.2.2019, with free entry and presentations in both Finnish and English.

Kalevala Day at HAM:

Finnish culture will be celebrated at an event organised by the Kalevala Women’s Association. Performances, poetry recitals and fun workshops, hosted by the ladies of the association who will be dressed in Finnish national costumes; guests can even try on the costumes themselves.  The event takes place from 4 pm to 7 pm on 28.2.2019 at the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM). Admission is free.

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