“The grazing season – and the work season for shepherds – began after the summer nights in April, and continued until the winter nights in October. Jyri’s Day tomorrow is the traditional day for letting the cattle out of the winter shelter in eastern and southern Finland. On this day, the guardian spirits of cattle, as well as the forces of forest and thunder, were honoured in order to ensure protection and good luck for the cattle and the house. In some regions, Jyri’s Day also started the spring sowing, and in Satakunta, people ate a special meal to celebrate this occasion. Special “sowing breads” that had been baked around joulu were eaten as part of the celebration.
“Jyri’s Day was held in silence, so that the thunder would not damage crops or buildings in the summer and the livestock would be protected from predators. One was not allowed to work, ride a horse, or make loud noises of any kind, including slamming doors. Cattle were also guided to their forest pastures in silence, so that the forest would not become angry. On this day, people were not allowed even to cut a branch from a tree. If an animal died in the summer, the reason was that right customs had not been followed on Jyrki. If the day passed quietly, summer would be calm as well.
“Letting the cattle out was a long-awaited and solemn event. The cows were let out for a moment, even if the ground was still covered with snow and ice. The cattle were walked through the gate that was decorated and had protective symbols such as torches, rowan branches and iron objects attached to it. An ax could be hidden under the barn’s threshold. Livestock could be also protected with female spiritual power. The act of doing so was called “harakoiminen”. This was done by letting the cows and sheep walk pass the gate as a woman stood on top of the gate so that the animals walked between her legs.
“Guardian spirits of forest and cattle were given food offerings on Jyrki’s Day, so that the cattle would be protected in the summer when it grazed in the forest pasture. In South Savo, people ate a meal, and, before tasting anything, they placed part of every food to a special plate as an offering. Dishes such as pies, butter, milk, eggs and meat were taken to sacrificial trees in the hiisi, a sacred grove. The dishes could be carried in a birch bark pack that was left hung from a tree. People might also walk across the cattle while reciting spells and carrying a burning candle. The candle was later burned in the hiisi. There were also individual sacrificial trees to which people left offerings, such as money, when walking pass them with the cattle.
“Despite the silence associated with the day, it was also customary to “shout to the forest” to keep his beasts away during the grazing period. Around the Saimaa area the night before Jyri’s Day was called the “shouting night”. People walked in the forests at night and drove the wolves away with their shouts. For the same reason bonfires were burned and hills and shepherds played their horns. In some areas there was a particular custom called “jyrynajo”, “driving Jyri away”, which consisted of children wearing cowbells and running around the yard and nearby forests and making as much noise as possible.
“Curiously, on Jyri’s Day, as well as on Jakoaika after Kekri, people were not supposed to give away anything from the house, no goods nor animals, in order to keep the house prosperous. It was believed that whatever was given away on this day would not prosper in the coming year, but would decline instead. Consequently, if one had bought a cow, it was useless to come and ask for it on Jyri’s Day – giving the cow away would result in the death of all the house’s cattle. The same belief is known in Estonia, where not even fire to light one’s pipe was given to outsiders on this day.
“Because Jyri was an important sowing day, the amount of snow left on the field determined the progress of the harvest. Jyri also forecasted the weather for the remaining spring and for the summer. If Jyri’s Day is cold, the spring will continue to be cold and the house will lose every third grain from spike and one-third of the firewood. If the wind blows on this day, the summer will be windy. It was also said that if there was thunderstorm before Jyri’s Day, the summer would be cold and rainy.”
Translation: Anssi A.