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