From Sleeping With Flowers to Bending Naked Over a Well – Finnish Midsummer, Explained

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Bonfires are part of the traditional midsummer festivities. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A woman enjoying the village bonfire at Porvoo in 2009. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Hyvää Ju-kännistä! When the temperature drops by ten degrees, the wind begins to blow a little bit stronger, and the weather forecast promises either heavy rain or maybe some light snow, you know it’s this time of the year again. In mid-June, the longest day(s) of the year are happening, and people of Finland celebrate that with BBQ, alcohol, and occasional drowning in the sea.

Last year before Midsummer, the streets were white in Rovaniemi, and for some reason this seems to be a tradition weather-wise. In my soon be six times of Juhannus (English: Midsummer, St John’s Day) up here in the North I have not had a single one with great weather, I think. But I actually don’t remember clearly, which is just another feature of a traditional midsummer: you tend to not remember it.

But I actually don’t remember clearly, which is just another feature of a traditional midsummer: you tend to not remember it.

If you still have no clue what I am talking about, because you are new to this country (or world), or to social media, or you have just been living in a box so far, let me throw in some facts for you. Since December 22, approximately, the days were getting longer and longer in our northern hemisphere. Sun was rising earlier and setting later, and the peak of all this will be between June 20 and June 24, which we conveniently and generously postpone to the weekend in order to be able to celebrate it . . . uhm, well, harder.

People observing the bonfire at Seurasaari in 1977. Picture: Olavi Ahonen

Rumors have it that once the Friday before Midsummer Day (which is always put on a Saturday between June 20 and June 26) was a public holiday, but even nowadays employers don’t really expect anyone to show up on that day anymore. On the actual day, you will find yourself in front of closed shops not seldom – make sure you know about bus schedules and opening hours in your region. You won’t find many Finns around anyways, because they go to cottages to have sauna and do Finns-stuff. This is how the (accidental and unfortunate) drowning happens, so watch out for your friends and don’t go swimming when you’re not sober enough! So, Saturday is a public holiday and a Finnish-flag-day and national sauna-and-beer-day, now you know!

Your Midsummer Memo – Here’s What You Need to Know

But there’s more to that still . . . what would be a midsummer tradition without a bit of myth and romance? Right, remember vaguely that play by Shakespeare? Where they all seemed to be on a trip or some similar stuff? So even though Juhannus got its name from a biblical connotation, midsummer actually has origins in folk magic as well. It goes back many centuries, and spans across many countries, while traditions differ from culture to culture. Well, and also in Finland there’s something that has to do with love – of course. While it is not really recommended to follow the tradition of bending naked over a well in order to find the reflection of your future husband in the water, because of alcohol, or this weather (for crying out loud!), you could instead go with the more harmless alternative of collecting seven different kinds of flowers. If you don’t have any allergies, sleeping with them underneath your pillow during midsummer night should be a rather safe option.

Midsummer at restaurant Kappeli in Helsinki in 1941. Picture: Soldan

While it is not really recommended to follow the tradition of bending naked over a well in order to find the reflection of your future husband in the water, because of alcohol, or this weather (for crying out loud!), you could instead go with the more harmless alternative of collecting seven different kinds of flowers.

Unfortunately, this is only a tradition for “maidens” who “look for husbands” – for the rest of us, we could instead go fishing, burn some wood in one of the traditional bonfires, or decorate our entrances with birch branches. And if this is not enough, remember the second official language (and culture) here in Finland and do it the Swedish way! You know, where they dance around a pole with colorful ribbons, have you not seen the Ikea-ads? Also, for some odd reason they call it Maypole. But then again, it’s snowing here in June, so who’s counting oddities, right?

There you go, now you learned something new. Go and utilize it, stay safe, and have a happy midsummer! Hyvää Juhannusta!

 

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