Laskiainen is by far the most underrated festival in Finland. Few remember when it is celebrated, and even fewer actually celebrate it. The only way it differs from a regular Tuesday is that school cafeterias and workplace canteens serve pea soup already on Tuesday instead of the traditional Thursday, and that the usual dry pulla-pastry has received a drop of jam or marzipan and a dash of whipped cream inside of it. In all fairness, not everyone remembers why Laskiainen is celebrated (‘the descent into lent’), but I personally wonder who on Earth chose pea soup to be the last delicacy we get to enjoy before a 46-day lent! (Not that I would actually fast, but on principle.) In most English-speaking countries Laskiainen is called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. Traditional activities in Britain include pancake races, in which participants race on the street and toss pancakes up in the air on a hot pan while running. Another, slightly more famous festival that derives its name from French is Mardi Gras. New Orleans is nowadays the head setting of this feast, mixing music, food, parades, colours, and masks. (It is the only day of the year when you don’t get fined for concealing your identity with a mask.) The English translation for Mardi Gras is aptly ‘Fat Tuesday’, which is a remnant of the time when people actually fasted, and Fat Tuesday, which is the day before the lent starts, is the last day when people are allowed to eat delicious food before the arrival of Easter.
The most famous pre-lent festival is the Carnival of Rio: with over two million people on the streets every day throughout the festivities it is by far the biggest festival in the world. The word carnival is suspected to derive from Latin or Italian, carne vale meaning ‘farewell to meat’. In the samba fever of Rio de Janeiro, however, it is disputable whether people are saying goodbye to meat, or rather to pleasures of the flesh – this year the health officials of Brazil handed out three million condoms to the carnival revellers.
Although these aforementioned festivals differ in size, content, and execution, what they all have in common is the sense playfulness, combined with the joy of spending time together as a community, and sharing the gaiety with one another. From this perspective the students in Finland have assimilated the spirit of Laskiainen perfectly: we dress in silly overalls, sled ride in unthinkable gadgets (this year’s finest was a pink car, although my personal favourite of all times was a sitsi-table on skis a few years back), and most important of all, share the fun with each other. While it would be inconvenient to samba our way through Kaivopuisto in a bikini in mid-February, we can stick to the overalls and spread the gospel all around, way beyond student organisations: Laskiainen for a public holiday, because it’s the official festival of FUN!