May Day Traditions in Fiskars
May Day is between the vernal equinox and the Midsummer Day, and was originally celebrated to mark summer’s victory over winter. In agrarian Finland, farm animals were let out to pastures on May Day, and in farming generally, May Day marked the beginning of the hard labours of the growing season. But on May Day such hard labour was forbidden, and only easier, lighter tasks were permitted.
May Day celebrations have been one of the most important annual festivities at Fiskars, along with the Midsummer Day and Christmas. A working man’s festival was naturally highly valued at an ironworks where most of the population was factory workers. A bonfire has become the most important May Day tradition. Burning bonfires on May Day is rather rare in Finland, and mostly occurs in the Swedish-speaking areas of Finland. It is thought that the burning of bonfires was brought to Finland by Swedish factory workers. In Sweden, bonfires have been burnt for centuries, and the tradition is still very much alive. The purpose of the bonfires was to drive evil out of the way of spring, and to protect cattle from wild animals and witchcraft.
Originally, there were two bonfires in Fiskars – one in Lower Ironworks, and another in Upper Ironworks. Building these bonfires became quite a competition between the two areas of the Ironworks. To enhance chances of winning, people started collecting wood early on. It wasn’t unheard of for boys to gather wood with questionable means, and people did well to keep an eye on their warehouses, lest they found their property amidst flames. The bonfires were measured not only by how high the wood pile was, but also by how high the flames went and how loudly the fire burned. These qualities were best achieved with barrels of tar, and so people tried to get as many of those as possible. During May Days, the Ironworks air was filled with tar-smelling smoke – an element which was considered to be essential for the festive atmosphere.
Later on, one bonfire was enough for the entire Ironworks, and it was moved to the Fiskars marketplace. The tradition ended in the beginning of the 21st century, because the event had grown in size so much, that the Ironworks could no longer sustain it as it was. Along the years, the event had become rather popular, and many came to the Ironworks from long distances to celebrate it.
May Day also marked the beginning of timber rafting in Fiskars. Timber rafting was in use in Fiskars until 1961. The 1960’s saw the end of timber rafting in Finland in general, as a result of modernised transportation, mainly the increased use of lorries. Timber was transported from Fiskars down the Fiskarsinjoki river, to the Skuru harbour. The beginning of rafting was a big, and even exciting event in the spring of the Ironworks, because it meant that raftsmen arrived at the Ironworks. Raftsmen were often from Northern Finland, and so they were often called “Northern Boys” in Fiskars. Timber rafting and the spring season for lumberjacks brought seasonal workers to the Ironworks from the surrounding areas, such as Karjalohja.
Laura Holmström – Minnen från Fiskars
Ebbe Schön – Svenskt folktro A-Ö
Kustaa Vilkuna – Vuotuinen Ajatieto