Juhannus (midsummer in Finnish) might be the most Finnish holiday I know and as an expat, I am always eager to celebrate all things Finnish every time I get the chance. However, thinking back when I was still living in Finland, I never really thought why we celebrated this magnificent midsummer holiday; it was only celebrated just because it was juhannus. Now being a Floridian, I am eager to learn more about all Finnish events and why for example Juhannus has been celebrated for years with certain traditions.
I found some interesting particularities regarding Finnish midsummer. Some of them might be known to all and some might be lacking the why behind the tradition. For example, why do we have big bonfires when it is the sunniest time of the year, and it is the middle of summer…
- Midsummer symbolizes light, midsummer, endless day, and the midnight sun. Originally midsummer was celebrated at the time of summer solstice because that marked the longest day and the shorted night of the year. Due to the influence from the catholic church, midsummer celebration was moved to June 24th – exactly six months before Christmas, on the birthday of John the Baptist. It is said that the name of Finnish midsummer, Juhannus, is rooted from this. John the Baptist is Johannes Kastaja in Finnish and old name form of Johannes was Juhannus and that’s why Finnish midsummer is known as Juhannus.
- In 1955 Finland decided to move the celebration of midsummer to a Saturday between June 20th and 26th. This didn’t affect the status of the day being a holiday for all as back then the normal work week was six days. In Estonia and Norway midsummer is still recognized on June 24th, no matter which weekday it lands on.
- Finnish midsummer is an official flag day. On a normal flag day in Finland the flag is raised at 8 am and lowered from the pole exactly at sunset. Midsummer is the only national flag day that has special rules. The flag is not raised until midsummer eve at 6 pm and lowered midsummer day at 9 pm in the evening. The Finnish flag will stay up all night long – and I guess it makes sense; it is an endless day after all when the sun doesn’t set…
- Some of the most traditional Finnish midsummer customs include deep cleaning your home, making a birch whisk used in sauna, decorating with birch trunks especially outside of the doorways, going to sauna and dancing all night long. Customarily sauna was heated early in the day, so people were clean to receive the nightless night.
- Back in the day, midsummer was a pagan celebration. The mighty god Ukko was recognized on this day all the way until the 1800. Ukko was believed to be the god of the sky, weather, harvest, and thunder in Finnish mythology. He was asked for rain to ensure good harvest.
- When the sun stops, the spirits roam free. At least that was the belief of the midsummer. During the summer solstice it was believed that the sun actually stopped, and the spirits grew restless because of this and had access to enter the world of the living.
- Drinking and being loud. Never ever did I think that drinking a lot and being loud had something to do with our forefathers from years and years back. It was believed that being loud and getting “tipsy” would scare the ghosts away and also, bring better luck for the year ahead (and I guess it makes sense that no spirit would dear to approach a drunken and loud Finn…).
- Juhannuskokko = Bonfire. Bonfires are also believed to ward off the evil spirits. This tradition origins from the Eastern part of Finland and slowly over the years these fires have become part of the midsummer traditions all around the country. It is also believed that which way the peak of the fire falls and points to, the daughter of that house is soon to get married.
- Which brings us to juhannus magic and seeing the future. Some say to pick seven flowers, others say nine and if a young maiden places them under her pillow, she will dream of her future fiancé. And I dare to claim that almost every Finn has tried this trick at least once in their lifetime (and it is never too late to try!). If you can’t go picking flowers this midsummer, there are other tricks to try too and see your future spouse. On midsummer night, go to sleep wearing only your left sock upside down. Hopefully the vision is pleasing to the eye.
- Pohjanmaan juhannuskuusi = Ostrobothnia’s Midsummer (Christmas) tree. Never heard of a midsummer’s spruce, but apparently it is a thing in the Ostrobothnia region (I’m from Satakunta area so maybe that’s why). The spruce’s branches are cut off and trunk is shaved, but the top branches are left in place. Then the trimmed tree is placed in the middle of the yard and left there, sometimes until the next year – why? I do not know. Perhaps our spruce tree was inspired by the Swedish midsummer pole or something else, but this definitely wins the price of the strangest old juhannus tradition. (And I’m not making this up, read more at Raahe’s library)
Happy Midsummer or Ukko god’s day to all! Share what traditions you have in Finland and/or in Florida and how have they merged over the years. I’m quite sure I won’t be adding a spruce tree as our new juhannus tradition, but I’ll hold up to the old ones like deep cleaning my home and drinking couple of lonkeros. Hyvää jussia!