Juhannus – Finnish Midsummer is special

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The midnight sun. Credit: YLE.

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.

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“Kokko” in Pispala, Tampere. Tens of people came to see the lighting of this bonfire waving Finnish flags. The weather was wonderful, too.

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…

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It’s not midnight sun… but almost. Juhannus in the neighbourhood of Pispala, about 11pm.

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).

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The traditional “ball” grill, pallogrilli, for preparing “makkara”, the Finnish sausage. My parents have one just like this.

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.

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Sauna inside a tent at Pispala Festival. Cool idea and even better as it’s only 10 meters away from the beach.

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Pispala Festival was organised for the first time this year – and it was a big success!

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!

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Finnish traditions include beating your friends with “vihta”, a bunch of birch boughs tied up in a special way. It’s good for your blood circulation! Credit: http://www.pispala.fi/rajaportinsauna/satavuotta/jutut.html

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…

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Finnish juhannus – theory and practise. There’s a point here, even if this year we had sunshine. 😉 Credit: Naurunappula.

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