Scandinavian Midsummer’s Eve festivities provide excellent opportunities for travelers to experience unique cultural events. The Midsummer’s Eve holiday, with roots steeped in paganism, is generally celebrated in all Scandinavian countries between June 20 and June 26, with traditional festivities held on June 24.
Just like every major Scandinavian custom, Midsummer’s Eve festivities focus on celebrating with others and good holiday food. Traditional Scandinavia Midsummer’s Eve cuisine includes potatoes with herring or smoked fish, fresh fruit, and schnapps and beer.
Pagan Origins of Summer Solstice Celebrations
Midsummer’s Eve traditions date back to pre-Christian, pagan times, when many rituals were closely associated with nature and hopes for good autumn harvests. Two important pagan holiday icons utilized during summer solstice events are the spear as a symbol of the sun god and the summer cauldron symbolizing the Goddess.
Long-standing Scandinavian traditions include lighting bonfires to signify the defeat of darkness on the shortest night of the year and dancing around the maypole, which is regarded as a fertility symbol.
The Christian Church eventually acknowledged Midsummer traditions by associating them with John the Baptist’s birthday, June 24.
Significance of the Maypole Symbol
Typically decorated with garlands of leaves or flowers, the maypole is so named because spring comes later to northern Europe than in the south. where festivities are typically held in May. The word maypole is also associated with the verb maja that means to decorate with leaves for the Mayfest.
Swedish Midsummer Traditions
Modern Swedish Midsummer’s Eve celebrations begin on the Friday eve occurring between June 19–25. The main holiday celebrations take place on Friday, with traditional events including raising a maypole. Swedes then dance around the decorated midsummer pole while listening to traditional folk songs played on accordions and fiddles.
In Sweden, where the festival is called Midsommar, houses are decorated inside and out with wreaths and flower garlands. Like other Scandinavian countries, Sweden also celebrates with bonfires and divining the future, especially for one’s future spouse.
Midsummer Celebrations in Finland
In Finland, Midsummer is known as Juhannus and celebrated with bonfires near the lakeshore, with dancing into the early morning hours. Juhannus is also Finland’s Flag Day, so it is common to see flags and other national symbols prominently displayed throughout the weekend.
Midsummer’s Eve is particularly significant in Finland where it is recognized as a national holiday. It is a time to be with friends, family and loved ones. The holiday is usually celebrated with a big meals that traditionally consist of pickled herring and smoked fish followed by the first strawberries of the year for dessert. After the meal, many Finns head to public parties and celebrations where ritual fires are lit. These fires recall old traditions of cleansing and warding off evil spirits.
Midsummer’s Eve Customs in Norway and Denmark
Bonfires are also an important part of summer solstice celebrations in Norway and Denmark. This custom dates back to pagan times when tribute was paid to the powers of the sun god, with bonfires signifying the defeat of darkness. Norwegians, who call the day Jonsok, also form processions early in the evening, typically led by a musician.
In Denmark, Midsummer’s Eve is al also referred to as Sankt Hans Aften (St. John’s Eve), which is celebrated on the eve of June 23. On that day, Danes sing the traditional song, “We Love Our Land.” Straw witches are also burned on bonfires in memory of the Church’s 16th and 17th century witchburning activities.