As I’m struggling my way through the Finnish language, I’d like to give you a little insight into the most interesting bits as well. Finnish is very different from other European languages, and often a language can reveal a lot about the culture of a place as well. For example, my suspicion is that the Finns are such a quiet people who don’t do small talk, because their language is so freaking difficult. If you have to juggle 15 cases in your head to make sense of words, you think hard whether something is worth saying or not.
One thing I find particularly interesting in Finnish are the names of the months. Contrary to pretty much any other European language I’ve heard of they are not related to the old Roman calendar, but instead use old terms (that were also common in other languages in previous times), describing the farming year in Finnland. When you translate them, they do sound rather poetic! For example “kuu”, in which all the months end, means “moon”. I am well aware that “month” has the same meaning, but it’s not so obvious to us anymore as the word has changed over the centuries.
Tammikuu (January): Tammi means oak, but in some dialects also means heart or core, which is the root of this name. This is the middle – or core – of winter in Finland. Tammi can also mean axis, and could therefore also be called the axis month of the year (New Year).
Helmikuu (February): Helmi means pearl, and the name comes from icy pearls frozen to twigs and branches you can often see glinting in the sunlight in this month. Aww, someone’s looking forward to spring, aren’t they! Winter is almost over, the sun is out, and they are so happy, they gave February a really nice sounding name (wait until we get to the end of the year…)
Maaliskuu (March): Maa is the ground, maallinen means earthy. This is the month where normally snow melts for the first time, and the bare ground with no vegetation on it yet is visible. Sometimes it is also claimed that the name might refer to “mahla” which means tree sap.
Huhtikuu (April): Huhta is cleared woodland. In this month, woodland was burned and cleared to make space for new fields.
Toukokuu (May): Touko is the seed and planting time, which obviously happens in May.
Kesäkuu (June): Kesä means summer, June is the first month of summer in Finland, and also the midsummer month. Well, that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? And it doesn’t correspond to the farming names of surrounding months. Therefore, it is more likely, that this name comes from “kesanto”, which is fallow ground. In June, fallow fields are ploughed for the first time.
Heinäkuu (July): Heinä is hay, and July is the month when the hay is cut and brought in.
Elokuu (August): Elo means life, but is also an old word for crop, and this is the harvest month.
Syyskuu (September): Syys is a poetic word for autumn, and this is the first month of autumn.
Lokakuu (October): Loka means mud – in October it rains and snows a lot, creating muddy ground. I’m really feeling a bit sorry for poor October, they could have called it the “colourful month” after all? But it looks like no one was keen on the prospect of the hard winter ahead. And did you know that in Old English, February was called the “mud month”? Apparently, in Britain people didn’t have reason to look forward to spring.
Marraskuu (November): Marras is an archaic word for dead (we can even find a connection to Latin here: mors!) or the soul of a dead person. Obviously, nothing grows in November, the trees are bare, plants have died down. Yeah, REALLY not looking forward to winter!
Joulukuu (December): Joulu now is Christmas, but goes back much further than that, to the pre-Christian Yule feast. In Finland (and also the Scandinavian languages), the feast was not renamed to a more “Christian” sounding name, but instead one feast has just replaced the other without a name change.
So, to sum them up, the months in Finnish are: Core Moon, Pearl Moon, Ground Moon, Clearing Moon, Planting Moon, Fallow Moon (or Summer Moon), Hay Moon, Harvest Moon, Autumn Moon, Mud Moon, Dead Moon, Christmas Moon.