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Pandemic puts a damper on western Finland's Easter bonfire tradition

Ostrobothnia's long tradition of an Easter bonfire has been broken this year by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Sari Hakamaa (left) and Jenni Uusitalo of Lehmäjoki in Isokyrö contemplate a sign informing them that the annual bonfire has been cancelled (Kokko peruttu). Image: Jarkko Heikkinen / Yle

Residents of western Finland's Ostrobothnia region will have to forego their annual custom of setting up an Easter bonfire. This year the reason is not the threat of uncontrolled brushfires, but crowd restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of novel coronavirus.

According to one local, some villages have toyed with the idea of somehow circumventing the emergency measures, for example by asking people to remain in their cars.

"We decided not to take any risks. This is a directive and we'll comply with it. The bonfire has been cancelled," Sari Hakamaa of the Lehmäjoki village association in Isokyrö cautioned.

"No one will be able to keep an eye on it. Health is the most important thing," added Mauri Laitila, deputy chair of the Keskikylä youth association in Jalasjärvi.

In the past, hundreds of villagers have turned out to witness bonfire blazes, either on the association's premises or in open fields.

Grilled sausages raise funds for village clubs

An ancient belief in western Finland holds that the forces of darkness roam the land the day before Easter Sunday and that they can be banished by large bonfires lit in open fields in Ostrobothnia.

With bonfire gatherings on ice this year, there may be a risk that Finland will be at the mercy of dark forces for the rest of the year.

"I fear the worst," Laitila said, adding that a series of regular fires would hardly suffice to address the situation.

In addition to warding off evil, the bonfires also bring other benefits. Villagers gathered around the fires have bought roasted sausages, coffee, pancakes and buns and made small talk.

Sausages and Easter bonfires are an important combination in Ostrobothnia that has been used to raise funds for village activities. For example, the cancellation of this year's bonfire means that the Keskikylä youth association will lose thousands of euros that could otherwise have been spent on fixing the clubhouse roof.

Bonfire live stream in Koskenkorva

In other parts of western Finland, villagers have seized the day and come up with ways to combine Easter customs with modern technology.

The Koskenkorva villagers' association in Ilmajoki said that it will live stream the lighting of the bonfire to all residents.

"We are not giving up regardless of what happens in the world," businessman Jari Mäki said, adding that he hoped that lost sausage income could somehow be earned by other means later on.

Following more than 50 years of tradition, a bonfire heap rising more than six metres high and comprising spruce, pine and birch branches has been built in one of Mäki's fields. Mäki has promised to set the pile on fire at 6pm. Village association member Anja Kurjenluoma will then broadcast the stream for a few hours.

Mäki said that he did feel some pressure about having to do the honours in a broadcast. Local residents or anyone interested in the long-held custom can follow the action by visiting the association's Facebook page (siirryt toiseen palveluun).