Finnish Midsummer - The Juhannus Tradition
It's the end of June, the weather is warm and you are on the beach with friends or family... and although it is 3:00 in the morning, there is still light in the sky, and a shimmer of red on the horizon. It's Juhannus, the Finnish midsummer! Here's why this day is so special and what the Finns celebrate.
Also called the "nightless night", midsummer is one of the biggest holidays in the Finnish calendar and is awaited with great anticipation by the Finns. Although the holiday is celebrated in many countries across the world, ranging from dancing around a maypole in Sweden to running over red-hot embers in Brazil - various cultures celebrate the holiday in different ways, the date typically ranging from June 20th to June 26th.
The Finnish name "Juhannus" derives from the name of John the Baptist, who's birthday is celebrated on the 24th of June. This Christian celebration is connected to the midsummer festivities, because the summer solstice and therefor the longest night of the year occurs in the same week as Juhannus, generally on June 21st. However, "Juhannus" has not always been the official name for the holiday, which is celebrated on a Saturday (and accordingly the Midsummer Eve on Friday). Originially, the festivities were based around Ukko, the Finnish god of thunder, who is the most powerful of the gods in Finnish mythology. The name was changed to Juhannus as the Christianization of Finnland progressed, therefor making John the Baptist the central figure of this holiday.
So what do the Finns do for the festivities? A very typical tradition is the "juhannuskokko", a huge midsummer bonfire that which was believed to keep bad spirits away. The fire is lit on Midsummer Eve and can be several meters high! However, during some years, such as this year, the bonfires are banned due to the weather conditions which highly increase the risk of a forest fire.
Another tradition is to hand-make a flower crown for midsummer, called juhannusseppele in Finnish. These are made of wild flowers and are worn by many on the holiday, adding a creative and beautiful touch to the occasion. A further tradition involving flowers is to place seven different flowers under your pillow during the night; as the tale goes, you will see your future spouse in your dreams.How many Finns actually do this? I cannot say... however, a vast majority of Finnish people travel to a summer cottage on the countryside to spend the holiday surrounded by nature and lakes, relaxing in the sauna and cooking together. Those who remain in the cities spend the eve at the beach or in a park, often with drinks, foods and games. Some typical foods include fresh berries, pancakes, grilled sausages, fish and potatoe salad.
The midsummer holiday celebrates the light and the warm season, making it a very joyful and nature- based festival that shapes Finnish culture and brings countless people together.