Tuesday. 28.11.2023

How to remember the Finnish months

Photo: Foreigner.fi

June, juin, junio, Juni etc. Names of the months are easy to learn in many European languages, because they are quite similar. Even in Estonian -the closest linguistic relative to Finnish- names of the months have latin roots: June is juuni. But in Finnish we call the months with our own, old and traditional names. For example June is kesäkuu.

Many Finnish students find it hard to memorize the months in Finnish. Would it be easier if you knew the meaning of the words?

The first rule is that they all end with kuu. It is a short form of the word kuukausi, a month. Kuu means also the Moon. So, they all are compound words ending with kuu. All you need to do is change the first part. And the first part has a meaning as well.

Kesäkuu is easy, kesä meaning summer. In Finland it is the first month of summer. The other months of the warm season are named after agricultural activities: toukokuu (May) means the month of ploughing and planting. July is heinäkuumeaning the month of hay, because that’s when the hay for the cattle is cut. And the last month of summer is elokuu, month of harvest.

After summer comes autumn. It starts with syyskuu, September. The word syys is a short form of the name for autumn: syksy. The other two autumn months sound somewhat sinister: lokakuu (October) is the month of mud and marraskuu (November) is the month of death, because in nature everything dies before winter. You can tell by the names of the months that autumn in Finland can be gloomy.

The last month of the year is joulukuu, December, named after the Finnish word for Christmas, joulu. Actually, the word is older than the christian tradition in Finland: when Christianity came to Finland, Christmas replaced an ancient pagan celebration of yule.

New year begins with January, tammikuu. Nowadays tammi refers only to a tree, an oak. But in ancient times tammi meant also core or axis: therefore, January is called the core month of the year.

In February there is usually a lot of snow that glints like little pearls. That’s why we call this month helmikuu, month of pearls. When the sun appears again in March and starts to melt the snow, you will see the ground (maa). Hooray, spring is coming! Hence, March is called maaliskuu.

April, huhtikuu in Finnish, refers to ancient agricultural habits. Until 19th century, especially in eastern Finland, the agriculture was based on burning forest and getting a fertile field from the burned woodland. Huhta means a woodland that is burned before used as a farming field. And it was in April that the wood had to be burned.

Next weekend we will celebrate midsummer, juhannus. It will also start the holiday season. Until the end of heinäkuu, Finland will be closed. The towns and cities will be empty and people will be at their summer cottages. It is a good time for everyone to enjoy the summer -all three months of it: kesäkuu, heinäkuu and elokuu.

How to remember the Finnish months