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Laskiainen is celebrated on 6 & 8 March this year.

IF the excellent conditions so far this winter haven’t given you enough reason to head outside to try your hand at the myriad outdoor sports on offer, then the Finnish calendar has something in store that might finally persuade you: laskiainen.

Celebrated this year on 6 & 8 March, the occasions respectively known as Shrove Tuesday and Sunday in English see people far and wide across the country heading to the nearest hills for a burst of sledding activity.

Having been celebrated in Finland since the 1500s, traditionally laskiainen was an occasion to confess one’s sins and obtain absolution prior to the start of Lent. In time the idea has developed to focus upon a holiday for families to participate in winter sports and also acknowledge the onset of spring.

The tradition has also enjoyed a number of superstitions over the years, such as women cutting their hair on the day enjoying thick regrowth in future, as well as people’s consumption of fatty food on laskiainen ensuring their pigs will grow fat and their crops lush.

These days, with the focus primarily on sledding, be sure to check out the sheer variety of sleds on offer on the hills. Aside from the traditional plastic sled, keep your eyes peeled for people propelling themselves downhill perched on thin plastic sheets, three-skied stiga (complete with steering wheel and brakes), circular plastic discs and traditional toboggans. Even a plastic bag will do for those less enthused about making a purchase.

For those with a little more of a devil-may-care attitude, there’s also a range of sleds to satisfy the extreme sports enthusiasts, each incorporating cutting edge technology in order to satisfy all of your twists, turns, tilts and 360s needs. The rest of us, however, can look forward to what’s waiting for us at the bottom of the hill.

While in other countries celebrating the start of Lent signifies an excuse to eat one’s body weight in pancakes, wait until you rest your eyes on a laskiaispulla – a sweet bun filled with lashings of cream and jam that would put a smile on any dentist’s face. Yum!

James O’Sullivan