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Easter witches make the rounds as part of age-old Finnish custom

Most of Finland celebrates Palm Sunday with the same tradition: children dress up and go door-to-door collecting sweets in return for a willow branch.

Finland's Palm Sunday tradition brings witches to the door Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle

Witches, cats and bunnies are out this Sunday, carrying willow branches ornamented with bright feathers and tissue paper. They might show up at your door, where they will recite a rhyme wishing you health for the following year. The youngsters will then expect Easter candy in trade for the branch, which you get to keep as a memory of their visit.

Reminiscent of the trick-or-treat tradition in the British Isles and North America, this practice is believed to be a mixture of Orthodox Easter blessing customs from Eastern Finland with pre-Christian rituals from Western Finland and Scandinavia.

In the northwestern region of Ostrobothnia, kids wait until the Saturday before Easter to partake in the tradition.

Unna Nummelin from Helsinki put her costume together in the morning, complete with an apron and a scarf for her head. A bit of red rouge on her cheeks and she is transformed into an Easter witch. The tradition requires that the children dress as witches, but in the last few decades, the dress code has been expanded to include all manner of costumes.

"I'm not nervous about it anymore. We'll just knock on doors until we run out of branches," she says.

Laura Larres was part of a three-person team that decorated branches for the big day.

"I had intended to prepare them during the youngest child's nap, but he didn't end up sleeping very long, so it ended up being a pretty hectic decorating process. I think this is a great tradition, even so. It is rewarded to see the children having fun," she says.

Unna Nummelin has several years of Palm Sunday witching under her belt. She is trying her luck this year in the Helsinki district of Maunula. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle
Chocolate eggs seem to be the treat of choice. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle
Oiva Sorsa and Roope Prokkola from Helsinki dressed as a wizard and pig.
Too young to hand out the branches, little tiger Eero Larres was still along for the fun. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle

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Ville Honkala decided to be a wizard for Palm Sunday after discovering some hair dye at home Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle
Ansa Kuusniemi dressed as a not-very-frightening Easter witch.. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle
Several parents reported that the decoration of the branches was a time-consuming effort. Image: Antti Haanpää / Yle
Residents in Maunula welcomed children at their doors. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle

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Ilona Nummelin's basket contains four Easter chocolate eggs and assorted candies. Image: Antti Haanpää / Yle
Many parents stand nearby to lend a helping hand, if necessary. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle
Photo from Helsinki's Maunula district on Palm Sunday 2018. Image: Antti Haanpää/Yle