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Helsinki: Traditional Midsummer Celebrations at Seurasaari Island

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For Finns, Midsummer at the end of June means celebration of the long white night, also called the nightless night. In Helsinki this means that the sun sets at 10:50 pm and rises already a couple of hours later at 3:55 am. In the northern part of Finland the sun does not set at all. The nightless night (yötön yö in Finnish) and the midnight sun (keskiyön aurinko in Finnish) of the Finnish midsummer make a great contrast to the darkness of the wintertime.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_06Midsummer_helsinki_01The streets of Helsinki, the capital of Finland, fall fairly silent during the long Midsummer (Juhannus in Finnish) weekend when most locals head to the countryside to their summer houses by a lake or by the sea. However, there are plenty of events and festivals to enjoy under Helsinki’s midnight sun, too.Midsummer_helsinki_02This year I decided to spend Midsummer in the city, for the second time in my life. With a group of friends we were excited to experience the very traditional Midsummer celebrations at Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfire Festival held just outside Helsinki city centre at Seurasaari Island, where the summer solstice has been celebrated annually for more than 60 years since 1954. Traditional elements of the Finnish midsummer celebrations include family and friends, bonfire and water, music and dance, as well as birch trees, wildflowers and outdoor games under the national flag.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_bonfire_03Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_17We arrived at Seurasaari Island at around 4 pm when the nostalgic festivities were just about to start. At the entrance, we were greeted by people in traditional Finnish costumes playing folk music.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_14Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_13Along the main road we got to admire handicraft displays and traditional craftsmen, such as blacksmith and carpenters, at work.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_01Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_15Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_18As the island of Seurasaari also hosts an open-air museum, we took the opportunity to visit some of the cottages, farmsteads and manors of the museum that portray life in the Finnish countryside from the past four centuries.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_16helsinki_seurasaari_01helsinki_seurasaari_02Flower crown workshops were held in one of the gardens. This is what we used to do when we were children, making flower crowns with wild flowers. It was such great fun but more difficult than I recalled.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_19Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_21We also had a chance to decorate the traditional midsummer pole (juhannussalko) with leaves and wildflowers, and thereafter witness the midsummer pole being erected.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_09Lots of traditional activities were also available for children: horse carriage rides, puppet shows, poem workshops, storytelling, and a playground with traditional old school swings, stilts etc. Children even had their own midsummer pole, bonfire and dances.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_10Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_023Traditional Finnish folk dance and music shows were held at several locations and of course everyone had the chance to join in.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_06Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_12In Finnish tradition Midsummer Eve and the long nightless night has always believed to have magical qualities. Still many people do rituals, spells and charms with a twinkle in their eyes to predict the future. Along the Seurasaari spell and magic path we got to try some traditional Finnish midsummer rituals such as looking into the well and swiping a white sheet on the grass.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_20Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_22Towards the evening we got to experience the procession of flags, sing traditional Finnish summer songs and enjoy more folk dance performances.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_03Of course we also had some typical Finnish Midsummer food: grilled sausages and salad.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_foodEvery year people at Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfire Festival also get to attend a real Finnish midsummer wedding as traditionally on Midsummer Eve, one happy couple gets married in the old church of Seurasaari. Their wedding waltz is a part of the island’s midsummer festivities. This year the bridal couple was from Helsinki and respected Finnish traditions and values fully with traditional old-fashioned wedding clothing instead of regular white dress and black suit.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_07Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_04After the wedding waltz at 9 pm it was time to set fire to the smaller regional Midsummer bonfires (kokko in Finnish) along with folk music and traditional Finnish summer songs. In the old days, bonfires were lit at Midsummer to keep evil spirits away and ensure a good crop come time for harvesting.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_bonfire_06Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_bonfire_01Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_bonfire_03The impressive main Midsummer bonfire was lit at 10 pm by the midsummer bridal couple that would row out to the sea on a church boat with ten rowlocks to set fire to the huge bonfire that blazes into the night.Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_bonfire_02Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_bonfire_07After that the Midsummer Eve was all about dancing the nightless night away!Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_02Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_11Midsummer_helsinki_seurasaari_08Some people decide to spend Midsummer at a holiday house by a lake or by the sea in the countryside. More about Midsummer traditions in the countryside can be found here.

Did you like this post? Read more about summer in Finland:

Midsummer Magic in Finland

Helsinki: 6 Unique Summer Cafes

Picturesque Medieval Old Town of Porvoo

3 Extraordinary Events Not to Miss in Helsinki

Celebrating Helsinki Day – Birthday of the City of Helsinki

Helsinki Street Art

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Author: Ticket to Adventures

Captivating travel stories from around the world, near and far, by an experienced traveller and adventurer.

6 thoughts on “Helsinki: Traditional Midsummer Celebrations at Seurasaari Island

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  4. Great to read about the celebrations in Seurasaari! I’ve never been and didn’t know that someone gets married there on Midsummer. I guess this is the place to go for traditional if you’re in Helsinki and then Hernesaaren ranta for the partying 😀

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    • Thank you Suvi, it was more than interesting to see some real Midsummer traditions in Seurasaari as we had never experienced anything like that before. Yes, party people should head out to Hernesaaren Ranta at Midsummer. Seurasaari festivities are great for families and oldies, in addition there were plenty of foreign tourists young+old. We had a great day!

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  5. Pingback: Helsinki: Traditional Midsummer Celebrations at Seurasaari Island — Ticket to Adventures – paaandadotcom

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