In the Scandinavian countries, darkness is a stark reality that hangs over much of the year. It is no surprise then, that Scandi people love to celebrate light—and this is never more clear than at midsummer celebrations. In medieval times, this was when curative herbs were collected for the year's use.
While all Scandinavians celebrate midsummer, each country has their own particular way of doing so. Whether you’re visiting Sweden, Denmark or Norway, you’ll find that the party goes on throughout the day and night.
Here’s how each country shows their appreciation for the end of dark days (until next winter, of course):
1. Midsommar in Sweden
Sweden perhaps takes Midsummer (Midsommar) most seriously; if you’re looking to partake in an unforgettable night, we recommend you do it here. Considered a time to welcome the month of fertility ahead, Midsommar is a holiday that has many traditions tied to femininity, such as girls eating salted porridge so that their future husbands will bring them water in their dreams (disclaimer: practice is not considered 100% effective).
Most Swedes celebrate in the country, so cities tend to clear out one or two days prior. Friends and family gather to make flower garlands and dance around the Maypole (Midsommarstågen). Afterwards, they partake in a traditional Swedish meal of herring, roasted meat, potatoes and freshly picked strawberries for dessert. The festivities go on late into the late - usually past when it finally gets dark - so be prepared for a full day! [Read more]
2. Sankt Hans Aften in Denmark
Bonfires are typically held all over Denmark - even in the centre of Copenhagen - during Saint Hans’s Eve (Sankt Hans Aften). The night celebrates Saint John the Baptist, born on the 24th, as well as the traditions of Midsummer dating back to Viking times.
If you don’t already know the words, print out a copy of Vi Elsker Vort Land (We Love Our Country) by Holger Dratchmann, the song typically sung while the fire burns. You may or may not see a witch burning in effigy, a controversial practice that is meant to remind us of the witch burnings of the 16th ad 17th centuries. Bring your friends, a few beers and snacks - it’s a relaxed and jovial atmosphere around any bonfire, countryside or city. [Read more]
3. Midsummer’s Eve in Norway
Midsummer’s Eve (Sankthansaften) is celebrated in Norway in similar fashion to Denmark: lots of bonfires. The major difference here is, because of the stunning Norwegian landscape, those bonfires look exponentially more stark and beautiful. People gather to light the fire, sing songs and enjoy each other’s company for the length of the evening.
This post is by Rebecca at Scandinavia Standard, a writer and editor originally from Boston who now lives in Copenhagen with her Danish husband.