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Celebrating the Solstice: Midsummer in the Nordics

Each year around the 21st of June (give or take a day), the summer solstice is marked throughout the northern hemisphere.

Scientifically, that means that Earth's northern pole is as tilted toward the sun as it's going to be all year. For those of us living in the North, it means that the summer solstice is the longest day of the calendar year and each following day the light grows shorter and shorter until we find ourselves in the dark depths of winter northern lights season once again.

So, invigorated by the energy of the midnight sun, let's take a look at how some of the Nordic countries celebrate the summer solstice.


SWEDEN & FINLAND—MIDSUMMER MADNESS

Sweden and Finland mark the height of summer with big celebrations and weekends soaking up the sun in the countryside, preferably alongside a lake or the sea.

Swimming pier at a lake in Finland
Ahhh, is there anywhere more relaxing than lakeside in beautiful Finnish nature?


Sirrý in our Stockholm office summed up her love of Sweden’s midsummer festival as follows: “happy people, white dresses, flowers in your hair, dancing around a pole, and so on!” Doesn’t that short description sound just dreamy? Swedish midsummer begins on the third Friday in June — Midsummer's Eve — when everybody flocks to the countryside, makes wreaths from wild flowers to adorn their hair, dances around the maypole singing traditional songs, barbecues, has a drink (or two) and parties into the night with friends, old and new.

Swedes dance around the maypole to mark midsummer (photo credit).
Swedes dance around the maypole to mark midsummer (photo credit).


The day marks the start of the summer holiday season, so you can expect many Swedes to venture off to their summerhouse for the month that follows to enjoy the sun and silence.

The tradition is similar in Finland, where the holiday is called Juhannus and is marked by Finns retreating to a summer home and setting up shop in the sauna with some cool beverages. The long-weekend celebration is also marked by the lighting of large bonfires — kokko, in Finnish — and causing a bit of a ruckus.

The old belief was that the louder a Finn got when marking the midsummer, the better luck they would have in the year ahead. Similarly, the more a Finn drinks on midsummer, the better their harvest would be that year... Of course, if you're neither superstitious nor a farmer, there's no reason to get intoxicated and loud. Just have a good time and enjoy the white nights.

FINNISH SAUNA iStock_000001372760Small
There are few better places to mark midsummer than in a Finnish sauna!


In both Sweden and Finland, midsummer celebrations are marked by a three-day weekend. Since the holiday is so connected with a retreat to nature, those remaining in the cities are also likely to get some peace and quiet over midsummer.

NORWAY & DENMARK—LOW-KEY JUBILEE

Norway and Denmark both mark midsummer on 23 June every year. Communities throughout both countries will host bon fires to mark the occasion — called Sankthansaften in Norway and Denmark — though the details vary.

Danes gather around a bonfire to mark sankthansaften.
Danes gather around a bonfire to mark sankthansaften.


Norwegians will host mock weddings between couples or even children as a sign of new life, while Danes will toss twig and cloth effigy of a witch into their bonfire as a shout out to the olden days when the church would burn witches at the stake.

Care for a roll through the morning dew?
Care for a roll through the morning dew?

ICELAND & JÓNSMESSA

Iceland is another Nordic country that doesn't go all-out like Sweden and Finland, opting instead for combining quirky beliefs and folklore with the feast day of John the Baptist. On 24 June every year Icelanders celebrate the summer and sun with Jónsmessa. Though the day is named for John the Baptist, Jónsmessa traditions in Iceland are more superstitious than religious.

seal at Illugastaðir
"Oh hey there. Would you mind looking away while I take on my human form?"


It is said that cows are able to speak on Jónsmessa and seals become human. Moreover, it is good fortune to roll around naked in the morning dew on the 24th, a custom still practiced today by those particularly dedicated to the holiday.


Which style of midsummer celebration appeals to you? Whether you want to mark midsummer with a raucous party or just rolling in dew and wondering if that cow over there just said "hello," Nordic Visitor can help make it happen!

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Post by: Catharine

Catharine Fulton is a journalist and travel writer. Though born and raised in Canada, she found herself stuck in the Nordic region since moving to Finland in 2007 to pursue her MA and then migrating to Reykjavík, Iceland in 2009, where she lives with her Icelandic husband and tries (albeit unsuccessfully) to master the Icelandic language.

More posts by Catharine

Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way, check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.

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