Last weekend we celebrated juhannus, the Finnish Midsummer. It’s an important party here in the Nordic countries, I would say the second after Christmas.
Our Midsummer traditions have pre-Christian origin. Like most of today’s Christian festivities, also Midsummer used to be a pagan holiday. The Christian faith then associated the date with the celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist. That’s practical.
Anyway, some of the old traditions still go strong. For example the bonfires, kokko, which are burnt by the lake or the sea. We also get a couple of young birch trees and place them at the front door – with lots of flowers everywhere!
Midsummer is a night full of magic, so it’s the perfect time for performing some rituals like putting 7 flowers under your pillow for dreaming about your future husband or wife… mostly the tricks are for young maidens seeking suitors and fertility. Probably it’s a high time to update the rituals!
The true star of the party is the midnight sun. This time of the year, the night does not exist. And you don’t really feel like sleeping either, which is both good and bad, of course…
During Midsummer, Helsinki becomes a desert city, as everyone heads for the countryside and the summer cottages. Even if every year there are more and more activities also here in the city for those who decide (or have to) stay.
As the idea of renting a cottage felt quite stressful, we chose a “a middle” plan and spent the Midsummer with my parents in Tampere. It’s quite a big city but as my parents live by the lake, it’s almost like being in a cottage (without thousands of mosquitos, which my boyfriend fiercely hates).
It was a perfect choice! My parents were happy and, as many music festivals are organized on the Midsummer, also near my parents’ place there was Pispala Festival that took place on the beach of a lake – with 20 bands performing during two days.
Pispala is the hippie-punk-alternative-bohemian neighbourhood in Tampere (still, even if there are more and more yuppies moving in) so the place has a vivid alternative culture scene. There’s also a 100-year old public sauna, Rajaportin sauna. I highly recommend it, if you ever go to Tampere!
Barbacoa is the thing to eat for juhannus. My parent’s are not so much into barbacoa, so we only did it once with the typical Finnish makkara that has different flavours. Then we had sauna, where we beat each other with vihta (another tradition) and drank some beer. Well, we drank very little taken into account that heavy drinking is closely associated with juhannus. Actually it’s very sad, as every year we calculate the dead after the party is over. This year at least 15 people got killed, and most of the deaths were related to alcohol: traffic accidents, drowning in the sea or a lake, fires… I wish one day we would learn to drink a bit more moderately. Let’s see what happens the next juhannus…