Midsummer Day / Midsummer Eve
Midsummer Day is a tradition that goes back centuries. It’s a Germanic tradition that celebrates the summer solstice. It has traditionally been seen as a day of magic — a time when people lit bonfires to ward off evil forces and plants were believed to have special, magical properties.
It was, and still is, a day that not only celebrates summer but celebrates all of nature. And that’s why it’s observed in so many countries, particularly ones in Northern Europe. It’s a day that’s observed in Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Norway, and Estonia.
In some countries, the day before is also observed as a holiday and is known as Midsummer Eve. Midsummer is a celebration that coincides with St. John the Baptist festivals in some places as well.
Even though mid-summer traditions go back to the Iron Age (back to about 79 BC, in fact), it’s been tied with Christian traditions for hundreds of years now. During the 10th century, King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway gave pagans a fixed day for them to practice their customs. A day that coincided with St. John’s Eve. Of course, these traditions also exist in other countries as well.
Midsummer’s Eve & Midsummer’s Day Celebrations
Midsummer’s Eve is observed in some countries, particularly in Sweden and Finland. Known as Midsommarafton and Midsommar in Swedish, Juhannus in Finnish, and Sankhansaften in Norwegian. In each country, this holiday is observed in different ways and at different times, but it’s also in conjunction with Midsummer Day.
In Sweden, this holiday is observed on a Friday between June 19th and June 25th and celebrations include a flower that is decorated with flowers and is known as majstång (or maypole in English). This is an ancient custom that is tied to early pagan fertility rites and is accompanied by song and dance. People also make bonfires that light up the night.
In Finland, this holiday is observed officially on a Saturday between the 20th and 26th. As is the case in Sweden (and in many other Scandinavian countries) bonfires are lit to drive away evil spirits and to ensure a good harvest. These bonfires are known as Kokko. There is also plenty of drinking and dancing, and post-part swims at night.
In Denmark, the bonfire tradition is also observed on both Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day. There is also a tradition of singing “Vi elsker vort land” (“We love our land”) and people eat traditional foods such as pickled herring, strawberries, new potatoes, and smoked fish. Plenty of schnapps and beer is also consumed during this festival.
Although it’s natural for us to try to separate Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day into two distinct holidays, that’s all but impossible. That’s because the two holidays are intricately linked to one another and the festival lasts over a week.