Midsummer Festival

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Midsummer festival with dancing and singing in Stockholm, 2019.

The celebrations for the summer solstice are referred to as the midsummer festival . In the Scandinavian countries as well as in the Baltic States , where the nights hardly get dark at this time of year (“ white nights ”), the customs are particularly lively.

The summer solstice occurred on June 24th of the Julian calendar in the first few centuries AD . On this date, the solemn festival of John the Baptist was (and is) celebrated, with which parts of the pre-Christian solstice tradition were connected.

A comparable tradition can be found in Brazil, going back to the Portuguese São João between June 13th (St. Anton) and June 29th (St. Peter). Due to the proximity to the tropics, the change of seasons is named and celebrated there similarly to the northern hemisphere.

Sweden: Midsommar

Swedish midsommar (painting by Anders Zorn 1897)

Midsommar is the second biggest festival of the year in Sweden after Christmas and most Swedes celebrate it with relatives, friends and neighbors. According to the 1953 law, Midsommar is always celebrated on the Saturday between June 20th and June 26th. The previous Friday is called midsommarafton (midsummer evening) and the Saturday is called midsommardag (midsummer day). Although Friday is not an official holiday, most shops are closed and residents of the big cities make pilgrimages to the country for the celebrations. On midsummer's day, the Swedish flag often remains hoisted overnight - contrary to the recommendation to bring it down at sunset or at the latest at 8:30 p.m.

In contrast to the other countries in the region, where the feast was dedicated to John the Baptist by the Church, the Swedish midsummer festival has not undergone any Christian transformation.


On midsummer evening, a tree trunk adorned with green leaves is erected, which is called midsummer pole ( midsommarstång ) or corn pole ( majstång ). Maj here has nothing to do with the month of May , but goes back to the ancient verb maja ("to decorate with flowers"). The bar looks a little different in the different regions of the country, and individual places often have their own tradition. The trunk is decorated with leaves and flowers and erected, then people dance around it in a circle, with various play dances being common. One of these dance songs is Små grodorna : It's about frogs and you imitate their movements when you dance.

Midsummer tree
Midsummer celebration in Åmmeberg

People dress up for the festival, the girls and women mostly wear white or flowery dresses; many also wear their traditional costumes on this special occasion. Some make wreaths of flowers or birch branches and put them on for themselves or their children.

The custom is in many ways similar to the German maypole erection .

to eat and drink

The first young potatoes are eaten on midsummer. They are served with herring , sour cream , chives, crispbread and cheese. Many people drink one or more glasses of schnapps called nubbe while they are eating and sing a drinking song like the one below, which is about either drinking the schnapps immediately or not getting any at all. But oil ( beer ) is also drunk with it. For dessert there is fresh Swedish strawberries with cream.

Helan går
sjung hoppfaderallanlallanlej,
helan går
sjung hoppfaderallanlej.
Och den som inte helan tar
han heller inte halvan får.
Helan går
sjung hoppfaderallanlej!

Magical nature

It used to be believed that nature was magical on midsummer night (the night between Friday and Saturday). Elves would dance and trolls would stand behind the trees. It was also said that the morning dew could heal sick animals and people. So they collected some dew in a bottle. This was also used for baking; It was believed that it would make the bread and rolls big and tasty. Something similar is still practiced today in the Lithafest , which has no relation to Sweden.

Seven flowers

At night, unmarried girls pick seven kinds of wild flowers from seven different meadows, which they then put under their pillows. Then, according to legend, they should dream of the one they will marry one day. But you have to be absolutely quiet while picking and the next day you must not tell anyone who you have dreamed of, otherwise the dream will not come true.

Denmark and Norway: Sankt Hans

Danish Sankthans fire with the traditional "witch" burning

The Danes and Norwegians celebrate the Sankt-Hans-Fest or the Sankt-Hans-Abend with a big fire on June 23, the eve of St. John's Day . At the Danish Sankt Hans also a straw witch is burned in the fire . This custom came from Germany at the end of the 19th century. The fire is supposed to symbolically keep the evil forces away. A local politician or artist will often give a short speech before the fire starts to burn. Folk songs are an essential part of the festival. After lighting the fire in Denmark, all Holger Drachmanns sing Midsommervisen ( midsummer wise ).

In addition to the large St. John's fires, torch or lantern parades are carried out in many places. A maypole like its Swedish counterpart is hardly common. However, in some parts of the country, such as Himmerland and on some South Funen Islands, maypoles ( majstang or majtræ ) are set up as early as May or at Whitsun . In some parts of Denmark a larger tree is also decorated as a midsummer tree.

Estonia: Jaanipäev

The Midsummer Festival of Estonians ( Jaanipäev ) is on June 24th; However, the celebration starts from the evening of June 23rd ( Jaanilaupäev ) until the early morning of the coming day. In terms of its importance, it is the most important holiday in the country before Christmas, which - as far as possible - is spent in the country, which is why the cities are almost deserted at this time. A traditional midsummer festival in Estonia must have a fireplace that does not go out all night. On the islands disused boats are often burned according to old tradition.

Finland: Juhannus

The Juhannuskokko is an ancient tradition with which the course of the year and the bright night are celebrated and evil spirits are to be kept away.
On Seurasaari Island in Helsinki 2005

The Finns always celebrate Juhannus on Saturdays between June 20th and June 26th of each year. Despite the seemingly Christian name, both the origins and the traditions that are still valid today have been handed down for a long time. In the past, Juhannus was always celebrated on June 24th of each year, since 1955 the regulation applied today, which means that the festival always falls on the weekend.

Just like Jaanipäev in Estonia, Juhannus in Finland is the most important holiday in Finland after Christmas, the feast of midsummer .


Juhannus has its origins in traditional traditions. The original names of the festival were Vakkajuhla (basket festival) and Ukon juhla (festival of Ukko). It was celebrated in honor of the deity Ukko (god of weather, harvest and thunder) with large gatherings on riverside squares, with food brought along and beer specially brewed for the occasion. In honor of the Ukko, the so-called Ukon malja was toasted.

Noise and drinking were part of the Juhannus celebrations from an early age. It was believed that this would bring good luck and drive away bad spirits. According to an old belief, the more you drank Juhannus, the better the harvest.

The festival will u. a. celebrated with night concerts and dance events. There are Juhannusfeuer (finn. Juhannuskokko lit), huge fire in visible places, particularly on beaches and in clearings. The house is decorated with birch branches ( juhannuskoivut ) and flowers placed in front of the entrance . In Åland and in the Finnish Swedes , a Midsommarstång is set up according to the Swedish tradition .

Juhannus is a popular date for weddings.

For many Finns, Juhannus is firmly associated with excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Every year on midsummer night up to 20 people die in mostly alcohol-related accidents in road and water traffic.

Juhannus today

The day is traditionally spent in the country, the cities are deserted from the evening before. Juhannus is also considered to be the busiest day on the roads in the south of the country, which are otherwise rarely congested due to the sparsely populated area. Long-distance public transport is severely restricted on midsummer, local public transport is completely shut down in many places. All shops are closed, and most petrol stations and kiosks are also closed from the afternoon of Juhannusaatto (the evening before Midsummer's Day).

In Helsinki every year takes place on the Museum Island Seurasaari takes a big midsummer festival of ancient traditions.

In recent years, the large open-air festivals around midsummer have become increasingly popular. The biggest festival is now Raumanmeren Juhannus in Rauma , which a few years ago, the first in this meaning Virrat and later in Vaasa held Rantarock replaced. Additional find Kauhava a Lentäjien Juhannus called Midsummer aviation friends (with flight demonstrations and attractive supporting program), the Nummirock festival in Kauhajoki and the Himos Festival in Jamsa instead.

Finnish Flag Day

Midsummer's day is also the day of the Finnish flag , the only day of the year on which the Finnish flag can remain hoisted at night.

Latvia: Jāņi

In Latvia, Jāņi is celebrated as the most popular holiday from June 23rd to 24th . Both days are public holidays in Latvia.

Latvian mythology attributes all the grasses and flowers that are collected the day before midsummer special healing powers for humans and animals. They are braided into wreaths and tied in bouquets. Traditionally, women adorn themselves with wreaths of flowers, while men wear wreaths made of oak leaves. Both door and gate, as well as selected rooms and stables , but also the animals are decorated with these locust grasses ( Latvian : jāņu zāles ). The wreaths imitate the shape of an egg as the "origin of life". They should therefore reflect the fertility of nature.

The landlady makes caraway cheese for the Johannesfest. The host is dedicated to brewing beer . In the meantime, however, this procedure is often replaced by “buying beer”. Through the offering of cheese and beer, through singing and dancing, all "Johanneskinder" (Latvian: jāņu bērns ) are given the blessings of nature and their gods, while they themselves are guests at the wedding of Heavenly Father Dievs with Mother Earth Māra .

A special tradition is formed by the līgo chants - Dainas for St. John's Feast with a characteristic refrain - līgo, līgo . According to ancient traditions, this word līgo was brought to earth by the god Jānis ( German : Johannes ) to bless the fields and bring a rich harvest .

In several thousand songs, the Saule (sun), the Jānis (often also called the Son of God), as well as the Jāņu māte and Jāņu tēvs ("St. John the Mother " and "St. John the Father", the owners of every homestead) are sung about. The Jāņa bērni (“St. John's Children ”, the festive procession), decorated with wreaths and grass, go singing from court to court, demand the traditional midsummer meal (cheese and beer) and wish good luck, blessings and fertility.

The feast of St. John finds its climax in the fires of St. John, which are lit before sunset and kept going until sunrise. In the country, the St. John's fire is kindled on a hill, using a tar barrel on a pole, a wagon wheel dipped in tar and wrapped in straw, or special torches. The St. John's fire is seen as cleansing and beneficial for health and fertility. It is also said to drive away all evil from the fields, houses, people and animals lit by the fire.

Along the coast, the Johannesfeuer are mostly lit directly on the beach. Here the opportunity is used to collect flammable material that has washed ashore over time or to bring trees fallen by the forces of nature back into the "eternal cycle" of "earth - water - fire - air".

Lithuania: Joninės

The midsummer festival is celebrated as Johannesfest ( Lithuanian : Joninės ) in Lithuania in the evening and on the night of June 23rd to June 24th. June 24th is a public holiday in Lithuania . The church holiday has replaced the traditional "Midsummer Day" at least in the date. Joninės is the most popular national holiday and has preserved many traditions.

The traditional midsummer festival is called Rasos or Kupolės and of course also took place at the summer solstice, some of which are also celebrated today on this date. Often the public holiday on June 24th is also given these names.

Spain: La noche de San Juan

In Spain, people living near the coast meet on the beach or in a rambla on the "Night of St. John". You celebrate with family and friends. The festivities start at lunchtime with campfires and barbecues. At midnight sharp, you jump into the water and greet the summer solstice. Especially in the large coastal cities, there is a spectacular spectacle when thousands of people plunge into the floods, sing and celebrate at the same time. The celebrations usually go on until sunrise.

Procession with the traditional “witches” during the Wicker-man “festival fire” in Wola Sękowa , Sanok area (2013)
Saint John night with “Sobotka” bonfire on the San River

Poland, Slovakia, Silesia: Sobotka

In Poland the festival is generally known as noc świętojańska (St. John's Night) on the feast of St. John the Baptist, 23/24. Celebrated June. A short name is Sobotka. There are similar practices in Slovakia , Silesia and the Carpathian Arc .

In eastern Poland ( Mazovia and Podlaskie ) the celebration is mostly called Kupała or Kupało and in Kraków Wianki (wreath).

Eastern Poland (Kresy), Ukraine, Belarus and Russia: Ivan Kupala Day


During the solstice celebrations, which are widespread throughout Austria , the solstice alias St. John's fire is lit.

Web links

Commons : Midsummer  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions, Volume 1, María Herrera-Sobek ABC-CLIO, 2012, p. 147
  2. Schnapslied Helan går (It will be drunk) in the Swedish Wikipedia
  3. Majstang Festival i Attrup. Nordjyske, archived from the original on March 5, 2016 ; Retrieved June 21, 2011 .
  4. “The Polish name for this fire is Sobotki. If now the Saturday is called Sobota in the same way, it seems to me that the word Sobotki means Sabbath celebration, and this custom may still be one of the remnants of paganism, perhaps originally a chick service. ”Overview of work and changes. Silesian Society for Patriotic Culture.
  5. This folk custom of the Jan fires in Slovakia is generally called "Vajano", "Vojana" and "palenie Jana" (the burning of Jan), while in Eastern Slovakia it is called "Sobutki" or "Sobotki". [in:] The dates of the annual fire in Europe. Matthias Zender. P. 95