Kalevala day on the 28th of February

Every year on the 28th of February, in Finland, we celebrate the Kalevala day for the honor of Kalevala. It is the celebration of Finnish language and culture and is also an official flag day in Finland. It is traditionally celebrated especially in schools. But what is the Kalevala?

The Finnish flag
The Finnish flag

Kalevala is the Finnish national epos containing Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology in the form of poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century. It tells the story of the Creation of the world, about the life of the people in Kalevala and Pohjola and about the construction and robbery of the mythical wealth-making machine Sampo. It also contains spells and prayers, greetings and condolences. The most well known version from 1849 consists of 22,795 verses, divided into fifty folk stories. Before being collected, the versies passed orally from one generation to the next orally, usually sung, and often accompanied by the instrument kantele, kind of a Finnish zither. This poetic song tradition, sung in an unusual, archaic trochaic tetrametre, has been part of the oral tradition among speakers of Balto-Finnic languages for 2,000 years.


It’s considered as one of the most significant works in Finnish literature. Furthermore it contributed remarkably to the standardisation of the Finnish language during a period when Swedish was still used for all official intercommunication and Finnish was considered mainly as vulgar and hardly had a written standard. The fact that the Finnish mythology had finally been published resulting in a small unknown population being put on the map, along with the Finnish language status improvement, the self-confidence and faith in the possibilities of a Finnish language and culture was strengthened and Kalevala began to be called the Finnish national epic.

And who was Elias Lönnrot? Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) was one of the most educated Finns of his time. He was an explorer, but also a doctor and a scientist. He was a developer and innovator of the Finnish language.

Lönnrot initially attended Turku Cathedral School, from which priests and civil servants graduated at that time. His studies were interrupted due to lack of funds, and he had to quit the school to earn money. He then studied for a while in a high school, but switched to a student place at a pharmacy. With the help of supporters and benefactors, he received sufficient funds and was able to study at the University of Turku. Lönnrot graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (the subject of his dissertation was Väinämöinen, considered the god of the ancient Finns) and two years later with a bachelor’s degree in medicine. Two years later, he defended his doctoral dissertation on the magical or magical cures of Finns.

Elias Lönnrot married Maria Piponius, 26, at the age of 47. From a young age, Lönnrot wanted to find out where the Finnish people came from and what they have been like. He sought answers to this question on 11 poetry collecting trips between the years 1828 and 1845, which resulted in his masterpieces The Kalevala and The Kanteletar. Lönnrot also traced strange words, plant names, proverbs and riddles for the development of the Finnish language. After his medical career, he was a professor of Finnish language and literature and compiled an extensive dictionary of Finnish after he retired.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931) was one of the most notable Finnish painters, who is best known for his works about Kalevala. He began his career with realistic folk descriptions, and moved on to the romantic Kalevala and Karelian themes. In the 1890s, he created significant works in the style of both symbolism and realism. In the 20th century, especially in connection with the trip to Africa, Gallen-Kallela’s works began to express expressionism. His studio and house in Tarvaspää, Finland, was opened as a museum in 1961. 

The Aino triptych (1891) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
The Aino triptych (1891) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

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