I Wish Finns Didn’t Drink So Much During the Midsummer

Women dancing Finnish folk dance to the rhythm of a live orchestra during Seurasaari Midsummer’s Eve festival in Helsinki on Friday, June 23, 2017. Unlike at some other festivals, the crowd at Seurasaari focused on traditional Midsummer activities without indulging in booze. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Wearing flower wreaths in braided hair, grilling sausages over crackling bonfires while the midnight sun is glistening on the nearby lake – the traditional festivities of Midsummer in Nordic countries surely have a romantic touch that cannot be neglected. Even the inevitable yearly disappointment over the bad weather that is a certain guest joining the longest days of the year cannot bring the anticipation and excitement for this special holiday down. But what happens when reality strikes right into the heart of all these idealized expectations?

For Finns, Midsummer (juhannus) is a very special holiday. Maybe it has a bit less of the magic touch that Shakespeare connected with it, but it is rather the incarnation of a perfect long weekend break that simultaneously marks the beginning of summer, and with it, summer holidays. People who enjoy a rather calm time rent a cottage with friends or family and spend a weekend in nature, while party animals have a wide variety of Midsummer festivals to choose from. Even a combination of both is more than possible with mini-festivals and live music in every bigger and smaller city. Alcohol plays a huge role, too, and jokes about how to “make it into the statistics” of drowned people shall brush off the concerning truth about the fact that there has not been a single Midsummer without casualties in Finland so far.

According to the Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko’s statistics, alcohol sales experience an increase of about 70 percent around the Midsummer weekend. And sometimes drunk people drown, when they fall off a boat or go for a midnight swim – that’s just life, right?

Six People Died During the Midsummer Weekend

But why does it have to come this far? And what about the other side effects of the binge drinking occasions around Midsummer? As long as no one gets seriously injured, those stories don’t even make it into the news. So, when you have to wash your clothes after a night out in the city during Midsummer, because you accidentally got drawn into a bar fight and someone threw their cider on you, it might make you wonder why everyone seems to have to drink until they cannot stand anymore, or even beyond. According to statistics, Finland does not even have that big of an alcohol problem, being number seven of the OECD countries in alcohol consumption per capita. It does, however, beat the other Nordic countries by far. Maybe it is not the average consumption throughout an entire year, but rather how much each individual drinks per occasion once they start, which makes Finns go wild at times?

To be fair, Midsummer can put a lot of pressure on people. It is supposed to be a perfect little summer break, where you are bound to have fun, relax, see fires, see friends, have BBQs, listen to live music, see the midnight sun – and brag about all of this on social media.

Midsummer can put a lot of pressure on people. It is supposed to be a perfect little summer break, where you are bound to have fun, relax, see fires, see friends, have BBQs, listen to live music, see the midnight sun – and brag about all of this on social media.

Reality usually looks a bit different though – if you did not rent your cottage way in advance, chances that the affordable ones nearby are all taken are pretty high. And whoever tried to make plans with more than three people “way in advance” knows that this is an oxymoron in itself. Seeing your friends, and live music, and fires is also more stressful in reality than it sounds, when usually some friends are at one end of the city, others on a festival for which you need a budget of around 500 euros to be a partaker, and the fires are in a different location again and burn approximately for ten minutes – so if you are not right on time, you’ll miss them for sure.

This seems like you need to take a decision for one activity, which inevitably leads to you missing out on all the others – and then, on top of it all, there is the weather. Every year again, Midsummer brings low temperatures, rain, or even snow, and also this year temperatures dropped by ten degrees right on time last Thursday.

A bonfire illuminates the Midsummer Eve in Seurasaari while also keeping the celebrators warm. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

So what happens when you have an idealized image of the perfect Midsummer in your head, and the described reality is happening? Right – you’ll get immensely disappointed. And what other way is there for dealing best with disappointment than a highly increased booze consumption? Certainly, this might then be one explanation for the news being full of reports about drowning, car accidents, drunk driving, fights and other violence after Midsummer. If you spend yours in the city, and you decide to go to a bar or club with your friends, be prepared for experiencing an extremely high level of aggression.

In Finland, it is ok if you need three attempts to insert your bank card into the reader, while you desperately hold on to the desk in order to not fall down when paying the entrance fee.

Maybe it is because the only people left in the city are the ones having gone through the biggest disappointments by having to stay there. Maybe the fact that, on average, they don’t seem to be older than 20, is what makes them handle alcohol badly. But no matter the reason for the increased alcohol consumption and the increased aggressiveness, it definitely raises concerns about the general attitude towards alcohol in Finland. There appears to be a huge gap between the should, with strict governmental regulations including high taxes, and the is, with a general social acceptance of binge drinking to an extent that people who abstain from it are not considered the norm.

Even the clubs’ regulations seem to have been wasted as a prerequisite for letting someone in, something that other countries can only shake their heads about. In Sweden, bouncers roam the club, spotting people who “look” too drunk, in order to remove them – in Finland, it is ok if you need three attempts to insert your bank card into the reader, while you desperately hold on to the desk in order to not fall down when paying the entrance fee.

Midsummer comes with makkara (sausages), flowers, and booze – it always has, and it probably always will. But a more moderate consumption of the latter could make the evenings more pleasant for everyone. A glass of wine with friends, a sauna beer, some cocktails . . . this does sound like a relaxing or fun evening. But as with everything, things are only fun up to a certain limit. It would be nice if people started getting to know theirs.

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