Midsummer in Finland: the not-so-Christian holiday

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We have just barely survived the long dark winter and soon the days will start getting shorter again. How quintessential a Finnish statement: depressing but accurate. Accurate because it’s time for the summer solstice, aka Midsummer in Finland. Depressing because, well, light starting to diminish again is depressing.

What is Midsummer?

But before we get to the depressing part, it’s time to celebrate the summer solstice! It’s time to have our Midsummer celebrations. Midsummer in Finland is perhaps the holiday that has the thinnest veneer of Christianity attached to it.

In Finland, our ancestors honored Ukko, the main deity of the pre-Christian religion, around the summer solstice. They celebrated Ukko to ensure fertility and good harvests.

The Church attached the birthday of John the Baptist to these celebrations to make the festivities Christian. But although the modern Finnish word for Midsummer, juhannus, does derive its name from John the Baptist, it’s hard to see anything Christian in the way Finns celebrate Midsummer.

What do Finns do during Midsummer?

Most of us head out to the countryside to our summer houses and our boats. We burn bonfires, eat, and drink.

Drinking especially is a feature of the Finnish Midsummer. Although the highest peak in Finnish alcohol consumption occurs at Christmas, Midsummer is second in this not-so-glamorous competition.

A side effect of this drinking is the accidents that happen on land and water during Midsummer. On average 7 people drown each Midsummer and about 8 people lose their lives in different types of car or boating accidents during the week leading up to Midsummer and at Midsummer.

The statistics every year depend heavily on the weather. The warmer and nicer it is, more drownings there usually are.

If you can’t or don’t want to go to a summer house at Midsummer what then?

If you don’t yourself own a summer house or haven’t been able to secure a Midsummer invitation from any of the 816 000 Finnish families who own a summer house, you can celebrate Midsummer in town as well.

In a normal year, many places organize Midsummer Eve celebrations with bonfires, music, food, and other programming.

A number of places gear their programming towards kids and, for example, burn the bonfire early enough for the kids to see it as well.

This summer, Midsummer celebrations are a little different since the government has forbidden all large public events until the end of July. Smaller events may still occur although many have canceled their programming.

Check your local listings by googling “juhannus 2020”.

Midsummer celebrations at Tali allotment garden in 2019.

Midsummer celebrations in Helsinki during a normal year

In the greater metropolitan area, there are a number of places that have organized Midsummer events for a number of years. This year these have been canceled, but keep these in mind for next year.

  • Seurasaari Midsummer celebrations: https://www.juhannusvalkeat.fi/
  • Tali allotment garden society Midsummer celebrations
  • Kivinokka Midsummer Eve celebrations

Basically the only thing we found that was still going on is Suvilahti Summer.

Midsummer usually means huge music festivals

In a normal year, you can also choose to spend your juhannus at a music festival of which there are usually several across the country. This year all of these have been canceled. But it’s good to make a note of these since tickets come for sale yearly in the year. Thus if you want to go next year, trying to score tickets this time next year is probably too late. You need to by them in the spring.

Here are a few notable ones:

Staying home

If you choose to celebrate Midsummer in the quiet privacy of our own home, you can still try some Finnish traditions associated with Midsummer.

You can decorate your house with birch branches. If you live in an apartment building putting small birch trees on both sides of your front door may be frowned upon, but elsewhere that’s ok (as long as you have the right to fell the trees).

Unmarried readers can try the Midsummer charms that are supposed to reveal the identity of your future spouse. You can for example collect 7 different flowers at Midsummer night and put them under your pillow. Your future spouse should come to your dream that night.

Happy Midsummer you all and stay safe!

This post was last edited and republished June 9, 2020.

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