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Midsummer – 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. Depressing because, well, light starting to diminish again is depressing.

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 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 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.

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 are 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.

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. Many places organize their Midsummer Eve celebrations with bonfire, 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. Check you local listings by googling “Juhannus 2019”, but for example in the greater metropolitan area there are a number of places to go to. Here are just a few examples:

This year bonfires might be rare. Forest fire warnings are in effect in the whole of Southern Finland and those prohibit open fires, and juhannus bonfires are not an exception.

You can also choose to spend your juhannus at a music festival of which there are several across the country. Tickets and housing might be hard to come by at this point, but you can always try. Here are a few:

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!

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