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.The 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.This 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.We 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.Along the main road we got to admire handicraft displays and traditional craftsmen, such as blacksmith and carpenters, at work.As 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.Flower 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.We also had a chance to decorate the traditional midsummer pole (juhannussalko) with leaves and wildflowers, and thereafter witness the midsummer pole being erected.Lots 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.Traditional Finnish folk dance and music shows were held at several locations and of course everyone had the chance to join in.In 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.Towards the evening we got to experience the procession of flags, sing traditional Finnish summer songs and enjoy more folk dance performances.Of course we also had some typical Finnish Midsummer food: grilled sausages and salad.Every 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.After 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.The 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.After that the Midsummer Eve was all about dancing the nightless night away!Some 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.
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