It was a toss-up between my brother and myself as to which of us was the family sleepyhead. If our parents wouldn’t have awakened us, we could have just slept blissfully all day. On Mark’s 13th birthday, dad and I dragged him out of bed and placed my brother on the living room floor.
The idea for the birthday prank was seeded about a month earlier when dad explained about a peculiar Scandinavian custom. Our Finnish friends celebrate National Sleepyhead Day on July 27th each year. Traditionally on Unikeonpäivä, the last person in the household who remains asleep suffers a drenching of water.
The custom is most famous in the south Finland town of Naantali. A well-known or somewhat distinguished citizen is awakened, carried from his bed in a sheet, and then tossed into the Baltic Sea.
In the average Finnish home, the occupants make sure to get out of bed early to avoid the tradition of throwing water onto the head of the last person sleeping. That family member then is teased as being the laziest person in the home.
According to Elias, my Finnish friend, Unikeonpäivä began in the Naantali spa culture of the 1800s. The day began at 6:00 AM with a refreshing drink of mineral water. On July 27th the water drinking tradition continued with the addition of a humorous song and the presentation of a thistle bouquet to the last person to arrive at the spa. The spa group then invaded the town with singing to awaken the rest of the town.
As is common with the fun loving Finns, this practice soon evolved into a festival that spread across the country to become the Sleepyhead Festival.
You may be wondering why July 27th was selected for this event. Well, today is the feast day of the Seven Sleepers Of Ephesus. According to the myth, the Roman Emperor Decius exiled seven men from Rome because of their religious beliefs. They took refuge in a cave one night. They were sealed inside while they were asleep. 180 years later, a farmer unsealed the cave and discovered the seven sleepers. The story has many versions in different cultures and religions.
I’m glad nobody has pulled a sleepyhead prank on me. This is surprising, because I have a long history of sleeping during the daytime because of working night shifts most of my life. Now that I’m semi-retired, I’m usually one of the first people awake in my neighborhood.
The Blue Jay of Happiness loudly screeches, “herättää!” (wake up!)