Kekri, the end and the beginning

As fall binds our shorter days with longer nights, daily activities are winding down and moving closer to home. My days at home are filled with chores of closing up the garden, harvesting roots, gathering the last of the seeds and putting the garden beds to rest for the winter. And, of course, hunting and processing the meat takes up much of our time in the fall.

Each cycle for me brings new things to learn. I certainly didn’t grow up on a farm. Although we always had a garden, growing food was more of a hobby than a serious pursuit.

I’ve learned a lot and initiated new habits this past cycle: expanding my seed saving skills, working new plants into my routine, weaving ancestral agricultural traditions into my daily and cyclic garden chores. I planted, grew and harvested Sunchokes, a Turtle Island edible tuber in the Sunflower family (Helianthus tuberosa), tried my hand at lacto-fermentation, learned to make granular maple sugar, started incorporating cover crops into the garden and planted rye just before the full moon in August, or ’kylvökuu’ (sowing month).

Rye, planted in the days before the full moon in kylvökuu (Sowing Moon, August). Growing well in October.

In traditional Finnish cycles, we are coming to end of the year, and the beginning of a new one, “kekri”. Kekri takes place, traditionally, not on a fixed day, but in each household when the planting and harvesting chores are done. “The word ‘Kekri’ (also köyri, köyry, keyri and keuri) comes from the Proto-Finno-Ugric ‘kekraj’, meaning wheel or cycle.” Today, Kekri is often celebrated on November 1st. (Quote and information about Kekri is from Taivaanaula.)

As Christianity spread across Finland, the customs and traditions associated with Kekri, and the celebration of the new year shifted from late summer/late fall to December, or Christmas (Joulu). But I am grateful that there are people in Finland who are reviving and sharing information about older customs, such as Kekri, and bringing the celebrations back in line with seasonal cycles. In many ways- at least as far as I understand- many of these traditions were never completely set aside and so what is shared is part of an unbroken tradition that is currently being (re)nourished. Learning about Finno-Ugric traditions, cycles, foods and customs is another thing that has been new to me this year. I have learned so much!

Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosa), a traditional Turtle Island food. Digging it up made me think about turnips, a traditional Finnish root crop.

I am grateful that the life our family already lives- family and community centered cultivation, hunting, fishing and harvesting from the bush- fits in so well with Finnish traditions. Both Anishinaabe people and my Finnish-Karelian ancestors live(d) in lands of lakes and forests and the lifestyles that each lived before the modern era have much in common (and differences too). Their livelihoods were/are a combination of hunting, fishing and harvesting from the bush supplemented with family/village focused garden plots. Because of the similarities, much of what I read from Taivaanaula is directly relevant to the chores of self-sufficiency and subsistence that are already part of our family life. 

I feel comfortable that what I learn about Finnic traditions does not focus exclusively on spiritual practices and esoteric rites. Rather, the prayers, customs, significant days, symbolism and traditions are intimately wrapped up in the hands on, day to day work of procuring sustenance from the environment and caring for the well being of the kin group. Reverence for the cycles of nature and appeals to the energies that move these cycles are the spiritual expressions of Finno-Ugric traditions that accompany daily subsistence tasks.

I’m not an advocate of syncretic religion or spirituality. By no means am I implying that Finno-Ugric traditions are the same as Anishinaabe traditions, nor am I attempting to weave them together as one. But as the task has been given to rehydrate and nourish each of our ancestral traditions I feel called to immerse myself in the cyclical routines from which I descend.

In this next cycle around the seasons, I’ll be focusing some of my time and energy on accustoming myself to seasonal traditions from my Finnish-Karelian ancestry. And I’ll start with Kekri; the end and the beginning seems like an appropriate place to start! I don’t know just yet exactly what our Kekri festivities will consist of this year. I think a feast and acknowledgement of the end of the growing cycle- and the beginning of a new one- will suffice for this year. As well as a visit to the ‘pitämyspuu‘ with a plate of food as an offering. Pitämyspuu refers to the guardian tree, or the tree that keeps you; a place for prayer, reflection and connection with ancestors. On Kekri, spirits of the ancestors are believed to visit and so it is customary to offer them the first of the food. If nothing else, keeping Kekri on my mind over the next month will give me a time to aim for in finishing the garden chores!

It feels a little awkward to write about some of this as it is all pretty new to me and by no means do I consider myself an authority! There will also be people reading this, likely, who know much more about these things than I do. When I first took up the invitation to reconnect to ancestral foods, I had no idea I would be walking down a road so rich and so tremendously familiar! For me, this is not about trying to gain spiritual power or prestige. That totally misses the point, imho. Its my hope that in learning about and feeding these old traditions in the modern world, we can all be (re)gifted with the tools, skills and knowledge to live a life that is more compassionate, just and sustainable. I want to offer the tools of my ancestors as tools of liberation and justice.

Kiitos, Miigwetch to those who have read this far, and to those who have helped or shared in any way big or small along this journey!

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