Happy Midsummer and please don’t go witch hunting

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Friday, June 22nd, 2012 In Blog, Fun stuff, Swedish By Çiğdem
Tomorrow is the day when people all over Scandinavia and the world celebrate the longest day of the year, the most popular traditional holiday among Scandinavians after Christmas – Midsummer! But what is Midsummer really? And how is it celebrated around the north? Though each country celebrates the holiday in a strikingly similar manner, there are variations depending on unique historical, religious and social factors. The Danes mark the evening before as “Sankt Hans” (St. John’s), as do the Norwegians: “Sankthansaften” (St. John’s Eve) or more colloquially, “Jonsok” (John’s wake); In Sweden they celebrate on the day of, calling it “Midsommar”; and in Finland the day is called “Juhannus”. These differences stem from the diversity of how religious tradition has become integrated with national tradition over time. As Christianity spread to the pagan Vikings, Midsummer often coincided with some pretty spirited witch-hunting and, of course, no witch hunt is complete without some witch burning. In Sweden, “Midsommar” is celebrated as a purely pagan holiday. As the celebration in pagan times included rituals surrounding fertility and life, Swedes put flowers in their hair, adorn a tall slender tree that symbolises fertility and dance and sing traditional folk songs and also cook special Midsummer recipes such as herring, potatoes, fruit, and schnapps for all friends and family to feast on. One practice that continues on to today is the practice of divination where people try to divine the future, in particular, one’s future spouse! Midsummer in Sweden is celebrated on the summer solstice, as it is Finland. Although Denmark is similar to Sweden, Denmark had some zealous kings who possessed some notable distaste for witchcraft so their bonfires are often adorned (affectionately) with a straw witch. This symbolic action comes from the witch burning ceremonies dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, which was meant to get rid of evil spirits. Besides the witch burning ceremony, Danes also enjoy dancing around the bonfire, proudly singing the popular traditional melody, “We love our land”, and don’t forget the delicious food specially prepared for the fest. The Norwegians call Midsummer’s eve “Jonsok” (John’s wake), and though the name hearkens back to the Christian influence on the day, most Norwegians celebrate the holiday as a purely secular or pre-Christian day. Yes, Nordics are proud of their pre-Christian Viking past! The day in Norway also involves bonfires, singing, eating, enjoying Norway’s natural beauty and just like the other Nordic countries, perhaps a bit of alcoholic indulgence for the adult members of the celebration. The Finns, though different in many ways from the Scandinavians, celebrate similarly. On “Juhannus”, Finns tend to travel out of the cities and into the beautiful vast wilderness of forests and lakes to go all out. Juhannus rituals include bonfires, saunas, song, dance, feasting and a healthy dose of drinks. A true family holiday in real Finnish style! So, despite their differences, the Nordics have a healthy heaping of fun on Midsummer, and though there’s a lot of stuff burning, at least there aren’t any bodies burning… Happy Midsummer everyone, have a nice weekend and thank goodness that there aren’t any witch hunts any more! [[Knock on wood]]

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