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Peijaiset (in dialectical forms peijahaiset, peijaat or peijaajaiset) is a Finnish word that in its modern usage often refers to the celebrations following a successful elk hunt (or the hunting season), but may mean celebrating also other things that have come to an end (figurative references to "pejaiset" over e.g. bankrupt companies occur in newspapers). Traditionally, it referred to burials, but also to other celebrations in some dialects.
Karhunpeijaiset is a celebration after a bear hunt. A bear was never "hunted"; it was merely brought down. A single man could claim to have hunted and killed a bear, but in a community effort, the bear simply died. The ceremony was always a much more elaborate affair than the most influential member of the community would have merited. In eastern Finland it would have copious mourners and wailers, and the people would address the bear as a relative or as the son of a god. Its flesh was not eaten — that would have been cannibalism — or, if it was, an elaborate show was made to symbolically render the meat into that of another animal, e.g. venison. The bear's head was usually mounted on the top of a young tree, or on a pike. Carrion-eaters would then eat it, leaving only the skull, which would then become an object of veneration. A courtyard would also be cleared around the skull. Traditionally, only bears were sanctified thus.
Sometimes the ceremony was held as a sacred marriage rather than a burial. In such cases the bear was either propped up inside a frame or strapped to a cross. With all due ceremony, the chosen bride or groom would symbolically marry the bear.
Nowadays peijaiset usually means the festivities ending a successful hunt or hunting season, usually only for moose and bear. On many occasions these include making a meal of the latest kill for hunters in the evening.
Similar customs have been reported from many other northern people who share their habitat with bears.
- Iomante, a similar practice among the Ainu people of Japan