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Celebrating Juhannus: The Magic and Traditions of Finnish Midsummer

Celebrating Juhannus: The Magic and Traditions of Finnish Midsummer


As the summer solstice approached, Finns around the world prepared to celebrate one of the most magical times of the year: Juhannus, or Midsummer. This beloved festival was a vibrant tapestry woven from ancient pagan rituals and Christian customs, marking the longest day of the year with light, fire, and a deep connection to nature. In 1955 Finland moved the date of Midsummer to the first Saturday after June 19 to create a long weekend, making it easier for people to travel and celebrate. This change aimed to enhance the holiday experience by aligning it with the weekend, thus allowing more people to participate in the festivities without work interruptions.



The Significance of Juhannus


Juhannus is more than just a celebration of light; it is a moment when the sun barely dipps below the horizon, casting an eternal twilight that illuminates Finland's beautiful landscapes. Historically, this time of year is believed to be imbued with magical properties, making it an ideal moment for rituals aimed at ensuring a bountiful harvest, good health, and love.


The Heart of the Celebration: Bonfires and Saunas


One of the most iconic symbols of Juhannus is the kokko, or bonfire. These towering flames, often built by lakesides, are believed to ward off evil spirits from the thousands of lake and the sea and bring good luck. The tradition of the bonfire, especially combined with fertility of the land is deeply rooted in Finnish pagan religion as described in the Kalevala, a long string of sonnets. According to the Kalevala, the art of cultivating land by burning old logs and tree stumps started when the King of Eagles gifted Väinämöinen, the first of men, with Fire. Väinämöinen used this gift to cultivate the lands and forests by burning, initiating a tradition that ensured good harvests and rich soil for the coming years.



No Finnish celebration is complete without a visit to the sauna. During Juhannus, the sauna experience isoften elevated with the addition of fresh birch whisks, or ”vasta”. These are used to gently strike the skin, promoting circulation and adding to the cleansing ritual. After a steamy session, it was customary to plunge into a cool lake, an invigorating tradition that connected participants with nature.


Mystical Rituals and Nature's Bounty


Juhannus is still steeped in mysticism, with many customs aimed at harnessing the magical potential of the night. One such tradition involves collecting seven different flowers and placing them under the pillow before bed. It is said that if you do this, you dream of your future spouse. If you want to be extra sure, you need to climb over 7 gates backwards…meaning that you do need to make sure to start in the country side where you have cow and horse pastures with robust gates.


Another popular practice is the collection of healing herbs, which are believed to be most potent during the Midsummer night. These herbs are often used in various forms of natural medicine and rituals throughout the year, underscoring the deep connection between Finnish culture and the natural world.


A Feast for the Senses


Food plays a central role in Juhannus celebrations. Traditional dishes include grilled sausages, new potatoes, herring, and the freshest strawberries, all enjoyed in the open air with friends and family. This communal feast is not only a culinary delight but also a celebration of Finland’s rich natural bounty during the peak of summer.


Embracing Juhannus


In the present day, Juhannus remains a cherished holiday, celebrated with as much enthusiasm as ever. It’s a time when city streets empty as people retreat to their summer cottages, or **mökki**, to reconnect with nature and each other. The blend of old and new traditions creates a unique and magical atmosphere that captures the essence of Finnish culture.


After Juhannus, Finns usually embark on long summer holidays, making the most of the season's warmth and extended daylight. While the day after Midsummer might have been a bit darker, it stayed bright for quite some time, a phenomenon to treasure and hold dear.


Whether lighting a bonfire, sharing a sauna, or simply enjoying the endless daylight, Juhannus was a time to embrace the warmth and light of summer, the power of tradition, and the beauty of nature.



Sources:

1. [Finnish Midsummer: Magic and Traditions of the Summer Night](https://suomikauppa.fi/en/blogs/articles/finnish-midsummer-magic-and-traditions)

2. [Midsummer Celebration in Finland: Embracing Mystical Traditions](https://rumpu-ukko.fi/en/2023/06/22/midummer-celebration-in-finland/)

3. [Things To Do during Finland's Midsummer Festival - Edunation](https://www.edunation.co/blog/midsummer-in-finland/)

4. [Celebrating Midsummer - Elävän perinnön wikiluettelo](https://wiki.aineetonkulttuuriperinto.fi/wiki/Celebrating_Midsummer)

5. [The Magic of Finnish Midsummer: A Celebration of Light, Tradition](https://workinfinland.silkroad.fi/the-magic-of-finnish-midsummer/)

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