Originally a celebration of the summer solstice, Midsummer (juhannus in Finnish) taking place at the end of June, is today the main national holiday in Finland. Midsummer is the celebration of the summer, light and the long white nights, also called the nightless nights, as the sun barely sets below the horizon.
Midsummer is often seen as the beginning of warm summer weather as many Finns start their summer holidays on Midsummer Eve. People leave offices and workplaces early on Thursday afternoon and flee to the countryside.
This means that all cities are practically empty and atmosphere is eerie. All shops, supermarkets, restaurants and other amenities close for Midsummer. Wandering the city streets all alone is an exceptional feeling as everyone else has left for the long weekend. Before reaching our destination we drive very small and narrow countryside roads in the middle of the forest. Often we encounter wild animals such as foxes, rabbits, raccoons and elks.
Midsummer is typically spent away from the city with friends and family at a holiday house or a summer cottage by a lake, either relaxing or partying. Colourful flowers and branches from birch trees are placed on both sides of the front door to welcome guests.
Regular Midsummer pastimes in the countryside include lots of simple and relaxing things:
Sitting by the lake listening to silence. All you can hear is nothing. Only birds singing.
Walking on the fields picking wild flowers.
Wandering in the forest.
Rowing a boat and fishing on the lake.
Barbecuing sausages, fish, chicken, vegetables etc. Lots of traditional summer food, salads, fruits, pancakes, with drinks such as beer, cider and wine.
Bathing in the sauna.
The sauna is heated up with firewood cut down from own forest.
Making bath whisks (vihta/vasta in Finnish) with birch twigs. They are used in the sauna to spice up the experience. The idea is very simple: take fresh birch twigs, tie them together and slap yourself with them while bathing to enhance blood circulation and the effect of the heat. The smell of the fresh whisks is gorgeous.
After the sauna we take a refreshing swim in the lake.
And enjoy the hot tub. Then back to sauna, swimming and hot tub. Repeat. And repeat. And repeat again. Until it is midnight.
Although there is plenty of light during Midsummer, one of the key traditions is to light a bonfire (kokko in Finnish) to dispel evil spirits and to ensure a good crop come time for harvesting.
An important feature of the midsummer in Finland is the white nights and the midnight sun. Because of Finland’s location around the Arctic Circle the nights at Midsummer are short or basically non-existent, so there is daylight around the clock.
In the northernmost parts of the Finnish Lapland, the sun stays above the horizon for over 70 consecutive days. In southern Finland the sun sets at 22:50 and rises already at 03:50 in the morning. The sun only very briefly pops below the horizon before rising again, blurring the boundaries between fading night and dawning day. This means that the nights are white.
The nightless nights of the Finnish midsummer gives a great contrast to the darkness of the winter. Spending the midsummer white nights outdoors admiring the different colours of the midnight sun set over a lake is so magical and calming.
Midsummer midnight sun mythology is a well-known part of Finnish folklore. Midsummer has always been considered a very magical time – perfect for performing rituals. Traditionally the majority of midsummer’s magical rituals were connected with love, marriage and relationships. This kind of magic was typically more important to women than men.
A popular belief has to do with a young woman who takes off her clothes and goes up to a well and listens carefully. If she hears a clinking of keys, it means she is to become a mistress of a house. If she hears a baby crying, it means she is to have a child. And if she looks down into the well, she will see the face of her future husband briefly reflected in the water. Rolling around naked in a dewy field means that you will have good luck with marriage. Another popular belief is to collect seven wild flowers and place them under the pillow on Midsummer night, as a result the future fiancé will show up in the dreams.
Did you like this blog post? Read more about Finland: