Known as Juhannus Day in Finland and Midsommar in Denmark and Norway, The Midsummer Festival is a hundred-year-old Scandinavian tradition. It celebrates the earth, summer, and the longest day of sunlight, Summer Solstice (which falls on June 21st). The word solstice comes from the Latin word sol meaning sun and stice to stand still. During summer solstice the sun will reach its highest point in the sky creating the longest day of the year. In the North, it is the time of the midnight sun as the sun drops to just below the horizon and the night never reaches complete darkness.
Many cultures have held celebrations of the Summer Solstice including the Egyptians, Africans, the Druids, and the Incas. As with most Old World celebrations, Christianity has influenced some of the traditions. The festival is enjoyed by all, but it now honors St. John the Baptist rather than pagan gods. Many places celebrate Midsummer on St. John’s Day, June 24th. However, Sweden keeps the two holidays separate. Midsummer is celebrated on the weekend closest to St. John’s Day.
Huge bonfires are built. In pagan times people would jump over the bonfires for luck. In Finland, the bonfire is called a “kokko”. The wood that’s used has been collected throughout the year. Homes are decorated with garlands of wildflowers and greenery. People dance, visit friends and relatives all night. Ancient ritualistic dances used to be performed to drive away evil spirits and ensure a fertile land. Today, the dances are just for fun. In Sweden, maypoles are erected and danced about. Huge crosses called a “midsommarstoeng” are also built. The branches from birch trees are used to build the structure, then it is covered with leaves and flowers.
Traditions include girls collecting seven to nine different wildflowers and placing them under their pillows in hopes of dreaming of their future loves. Boys use a copper coin. In ancient days, it was believed that on this one night ferns would blossom. Only the true of heart would be able to find the rare fern flower. Herbs were also gathered, especially St. John’s Wort. People used it in potions, wove it into garlands, and burnt it atop bonfires to protect livestock. Dew was collected that gathered on the leaves and flowers on the Midsummer’s night as it was supposed to hold magical healing properties. Witch Ladder’s were built by tying feathers into a special braided cord while making several wishes. Midsummer was and is a popular time to wed under the midnight sun.
An emphasis is put on dairy products and cows. It was believed that a cows’ milk may be bewitched the night before and so cows were kept safe inside. “Only after the dew had gone away, may the cows go out to graze.”
Midsummer celebrations are celebrated all over, including parts of the United States and British Columbia.