A friend at work has lent me a book that compares English and Finnish proverbs. While the meanings are similar I love the way the Finnish versions all have a local twist, usually associated with the seasons, the earth or Finnish wildlife.
For example, where I’d say: ‘straight from the frying pan and into the fire’, a Finn might say ‘Kun menee sutta pakoon, tulee karhu vastaan’ ( When you flee from a wolf, you run into a bear).
Similarly, the months of the year in Finnish are also tied to life.
Here are the 12 months of the year in Finnish and their meanings as far as I can tell. When forming the name of the month, you add kuu (moon), for example tammikuu is January.
1. Tammi – oak, or heart in some dialects. Sometimes attributed as being named for the ‘heart of winter’
2. Helmi – pearl. Possibly named for the sun shining on droplets of ice, giving a pearl like effect.
3. Maalis – maa means earth or ground. Some theories say this is the month when the earth is again visible as the snow melts away.
4. Huhti – a time when trees were cut and burnt so as to add nutrition to the soil (in English this is called ‘swidden’, something I’d never heard of before)
5. Touko – crop, a time to plant crops for the next harvest
6. Kesä – kesä means summer and June is considered the first month of summer in Finland
7. Heinä – hay, make it while the sun shines!
8. Elo – elo means life and elonkorjuu is the Finnish word for harvest
9. Syys – autumn is syksy in Finnish and September is considered the beginning of autumn in Finland
10.Loka – dirt or mud, probably due to the slush on the ground as the first snow falls
11. Marras – death, a time when the plants and trees begin to die as the days get increasingly shorter.
12. Joulu – an old festival gradually replaced by Christmas and now associated with the Christian festival. Joulupukki (now meaning Santa Claus) actually means ‘yule goat’ and comes from the story in Norse mythology of Wōden and Thor embarking on their Wild Hunt on a flying wagon pulled by goats.
We learnt another Finnish saying recently. As reindeer cannot pee and run at the same time, one way to measure distance was the length a reindeer could travel before having to stop to relieve itself (max distance estimated to be 7.5km). Known as poronkusema I’m not sure we have an English equivalent, but you never known when it may come in handy.
Hyvää Joulua! Merry Christmas! x
10 thoughts on “Until the reindeer pees…”
Thank you for this post. It was few weeks ago when discussed about those month names. Then we thought for example that if Joulukuu comes from Christmas, then logically Kesäkuu should be Mid-summer month. 🙂
Well done! Thanks & Hyvää Joulua!
This is wonderful — I love the connections that you point out and how they remain rooted in nature and wildlife, when so often, it seems we are in such a hurry to remove ourselves from nature at all costs.
Thanks Carrie, so much about life here is closely related to the seasons. Even in the city. We are looking forward to winter solstice tomorrow & gradually longer days. Merry Christmas!
” from the frying pan and into the fire..” More often a Finn would say “Ojasta allikkoon”, even though average Finn wouldn’t know what “allikko” means. I had to look it up, and it means something like a small pond or wet bog. Oja means a ditch. So from a ditch to the small pond or alike.
I guess “Huhti” is totally unknown word to most of the Finns. And there are lots of more or less forgotten words that make sense only in sayings.
Thanks for this, it’s always good to hear what Finns really say rather than what I read in books. When learning a new language it’s good to remember – sometimes we don’t even know our own entirely! Thanks for the comment & Hyvää Joulua!
I’ve never thought about the Finnish months in their literal meaning (even thought I am a native Finnish speaker!). Thanks for highlighting these. 🙂
You’re welcome. ☺️ I only just thought about a guy I know called Touko sharing his name with a month
Very funny and interesting post! ☺️
Thanks! I need to learn & share some more Finnish sayings