Celebrating the Kalevala

There have been high profile celebrations in honour of both the Old (1835) and the New Kalevala (1849) during anniversies, particularly in 1935, 1949, 1985 and 1999. The anniversaries of the Kalevala provide a fascinating overview of the different interpretations and meanings of the Kalevala in Finnish culture.

The 50th anniversary of the Kalevala, in 1885, was the first great public Kalevala celebration. It was organised by the Finnish Literature Society in the auditorium of the University of Helsinki. At the same time, the Savonian-Karelian Nation organised its own celebration in the auditorium of the Student House. Outside Helsinki, celebrations were organised in many areas. The Folk Education Society also started to celebrate the Kalevala in its song celebrations.

In early 1909, 60 years after the publication of the New Kalevala, the idea of an annual, public Kalevala celebration surfaced and became popular. On the evening of Kalevala Day, many organisations held celebrations. However, the only public event was a torch procession by students, from Senate Square to the statue of Lönnrot. In June 1909 the Association of Finnish Youths decided that it would from then on organise an annual Kalevala celebration, and in December the same year the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity adopted a resolution into its programme that it would organise patriotic celebrations every year. The Association of Finnish Culture and Identity was responsible for the 75th anniversary celebration of the first edition of the epic, organised in Helsinki in 1910.

The grandest Kalevala-related celebration was in 1935, the 100th anniversary of the Old Kalevala. It was organised by the Kalevala Society, the Finnish Literature Society and many other cultural organisations along with the Finnish State. The main celebration in Helsinki took four days, and included for example a jubilee on 28 February in the Exhibition Hall (now the Töölö Sports Hall). In honour of the anniversary, the Association of Finnish Culture and Identity organised a campaign to Fennicise surnames, and as a consequence 100 000 Finns received Finnish names.

The Exhibition Hall, finished in the beginning of the anniversary, was in February 1935 full of people celebrating the hundreth anniversary of the Kalevala.

The Exhibition Hall, finished in the beginning of the anniversary, was in February 1935 full of people celebrating the hundreth anniversary of the Kalevala.

The official celebrations of 1949 were organised by a large group of organisations and associations representing various groups of citizens, all led by the Kalevala Society and the Finnish Literature Society. The main event was at the Exhibition Hall. In April the same year, the leftist party Finnish People’s Democratic Alliance organised its own celebration in honour of the 100th anniversary of the New Kalevala.

The opening ceremony of the Land and People of the Kalevala exhibition at the Kunsthalle Helsinki, held in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the New Kalevala. Aune Lindström on the left, A. O. Väisänen on the right, and sculptor Eemil Halonen in front of him.

The opening ceremony of the Land and People of the Kalevala exhibition at the Kunsthalle Helsinki, held in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the New Kalevala. Aune Lindström on the left, A. O. Väisänen on the right, and sculptor Eemil Halonen in front of him.

In 1965–1975, the Kalevala Society organised various cultural political theme weeks on and around Kalevala Day. The largest celebrations since 1935 were the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Kalevala, which lasted throughout 1985. The Ministry of Education nominated an anniversary committee for organising and carrying out the anniversary events. The Folklore Archives of the FLS and the Kalevala Society were responsible for the practical arrangements. There were a total of approximately 500 events in Finland, and 250 abroad. The national main celebration was organised on 28 February at the Finlandia House in Helsinki.

The Rowers of the Anniversary logo was designed by Kyösti Varis.

The Rowers of the Anniversary logo was designed by Kyösti Varis.

In 1999, the 150th anniversary of the New Kalevala, the celebrations spread even more widely around the world. There were over 700 events in Finland and 42 abroad. The theme of the anniversary was “Kalevala Around the World”. The practical arrangements were handled by the Kalevala Women’s Association.

The 160th anniversary of the New Kalevala was celebrated in 2009. The Kalevala Society was particularly active in celebrating the anniversary, due to the Artists’ Kalevala 2009 project. Ten modern Finnish composers and artists were involved in the project, each of whom prepared a musical or artistic interpretation of the poems of the Kalevala. All of these works were displayed at the Ateneum Art Museum, as part of a grand Kalevala-related exhibition. It was the largest Kalevala art exhibition for many decades, with almost 200 works by 60 artists from the 1850s to the 21st century. The exhibition drew 150 000 visitors.

The Artists' Kalevala celebration at the Ateneum on 28 February 2009.

The Artists’ Kalevala celebration at the Ateneum on 28 February 2009.

The Artists’ Kalevala was considered a succesful and unique project both from the point of view of Finnish art and of the cultural history of the Kalevala. As part of the Ateneum exhibition, it became the most important project of the 160th anniversary of the Kalevala. The Artists’ Kalevala, edited by Ulla Piela, was published on Kalevala Day by the FLS.

The 175th anniversary of the Old Kalevala was celebrated in 2010. The Kalevala Society was responsible for organising the celebrations, together with an anniversary committee. The theme of the anniversary was “Kalevala of my Mind”. It was intended to encourage Finns to read the Kalevala and to make their own interpretations of it. The intention was to reach young people in particular, to encourage them to take the epic as their own. In addition, the aim was to engage organisations and persons working with young people to offer them opportunities to implement their interpretations of the Kalevala. A diverse range of events were organised during the anniversary, even though the previous year had been the anniversary of the New Kalevala.