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One of the weirder (inofficial) holidays in Finland is the Seven Sleepers’ Day. Technically, this day is also known in southern Germany, but in a very different way. There, it is celebrated on the 27th June. It originates from a Christian legend, the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. According to legend, these seven young Christians took refuge in a mountain cave near Ephesus around the year 250AD to escape persecution. There, they fell asleep (wether they were walled in by their persecutors or not, there seem to be different ways of telling the story), and woke up almost 200 years later, when Christians were allowed to freely practice their belief. It didn’t seem to help them too much though, since they died anyway shortly after.

In southern Germany, Seven Sleepers’ Day is believed to predict the weather for the following seven weeks, according to traditional lore. And there really is some truth in this, even if it’s not for all of the 7 weeks. But generally, the weather systems seem to stabilize over southern Germany in early July, which means that the predictions are 60-80% accurate – at least if the day would be commemorated on the actual date, 7th July. Due to the Gregorian calendar reform, the day is nowadays celebrated on the “wrong” date.

But now let’s talk about the Finnish version: This is celebrated a month later, on 27th July, and is called “Sleepy Head Day” (Unikeonpäivä). Whoever sleeps longest in the house on this day is the “sleepy head” and gets a rude awakening in the water. Whether the sleepy head comes to the water or the water to the sleepy head is a matter of choice and practicality: If a lake or the sea are nearby, they might just be thrown into there, otherwise water may just be poured over them in bed. This tradition dates from the Middle Ages, first written records can be found from the year 1652. Back then, the title of “Sleepy Head of the Day” carried further stigma: The belief was that whoever slept late on this day would be lazy and unproductive for the entire year.

Naantalin Unikeko 2015

In Naantali (which may sound like a Nepalese dish, but is indeed a Finnish town near Turku) large festivities for the day start at 5.30 in the morning. Music and a procession of pyjama- and dressing gown-clad people, armed with a range of noise producing instruments and kitchen utensils wake up the town from 6am onwards. Traditionally, a celebrity sleepy head is thrown into the harbour basin at 7am. The identity of the sleepy head is a big secret until the very last minute: The victim is wrapped in bedsheets and carried to the harbour on a stretcher. Only when he falls into the water, or rather, surfaces again from there, the audience can see who it is. Usually it is someone who has benefitted the town in some way, so for example every mayor of the town is thrown into the water at least once. In addition many artists, heads of business and the husband of former president Tarja Halonen have had the honour of being Naantali’s sleepy head in the past. Afterwards, there are festivities all throughout the day, so if you’re closeby it’s well worth a visit. A video of the festivities is available for example here.

Naantalin Matkailu Oy, kuvaaja Esko Keski-Oja 2

Images courtesy of Naantalin Matkailu Oy, kuvaaja Esko Keski-Oja, www.naantalinmatkailu.fi

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