Summer Solstice -- Midsummer Day
Finland is one of the most northerly
countries in the world. The winters
near the Arctic Circle are long and dark. Summer
is long awaited. Summer in Finland
is warm, bright and exhilarating. Above
the seventy-degree latitude, the midnight sun is visible from mid-May to the end
of July, with the summer solstice being the most pronounced in brightness.
The average during that period of time is nineteen hours of sunshine per
events surrounding the summer solstice were originally pagan celebrations in
Finland. It was important for the
Vikings because they believed the earth stood still due to the fact that the sun
did not set that day. Early
Christian missionaries capitalized on the event and converted it to the
"Day of Saint John" in honor of John the Baptist.
The shamanistic Finnish festival became the Christian celebration we call
"Juhannus" celebrated with bonfires and community Christian singing
Summer is a rare commodity in the North-European country of Finland where
winter's reign lengthens its grip far into spring. When summer finally arrives with its solstice around June 25, the festivities take over with
Symbolic of the cold, dark climate, Finns are a sober, serious people who
view the world with furrowed brows from underneath their fur hats all winter.
However, as soon as the sun eclipses the equinoctial line, the hats are thrown off, brows smooth and the Finns™ alter-ego is set free.
Juhannus, as the summer solstice is called in Finnish, is the initiation of
all Finnish summer ambitions. The holiday is a quasi holy day, kept apart for
special occasions, such as family reunions, weddings and christenings. This
is by far the best time to visit Finland, to appreciate her in verdant summer dress.
Days before the holiday, preparations begin. On the home front, it means
cleaning the entire house inside and out. Tender, fragrant green-leafed birch branches, tied in bunches, adorn doorways and porches to bring the
summer's glories even closer home. The Finnish flag is flown, gloriously bright against the azure skies all through the nightless night.
National costumes are taken from the attic to air, and are readied for the year's most
important national outing. In the towns and villages, the building of the kokko, a huge bonfire,
Old boats and lumber are used to fashion the distinct conical shape of the
Juhannus kokko bonfire. Excitement builds as the silhouette rises on a prominent location near water.
In Finland, there is always water near every town, be it a lake, a pond, a river, or a stream.
That special incineration of the kokko happens on Juhannus evening, after lengthy entertainment and
feasting have taken place. Traditional folk songs are heard, accompanied by the
kantele, the Finnish national instrument. The kantele is a lute-like musical
implement mentioned even in Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Dances, known as tanhut, are brought to life, accompanied by the songs of accordions
and fiddles, rendered by skillful performers dressed in their colorful regional national costumes.
Men, women and children dance. Audience participation in the raucous polkas and waltzes precede the hour of burning.
Close to midnight, the kokko is ceremoniously set on fire.
The spectators express their admiration as the flames roar up to the sky, ferociously
licking the dry wood. The burning boats and lumber brighten up the already
light midnight sky to the endless delight of the observers who linger far into the early morning hours, enjoying the warmth and magic that burning fire
somehow conjures up.
Another summer solstice is over, but in Finland it only wakes up the sleeping
winter-worn spirits, and summer comes to life in the land of the midnight sun.
Please contact June
if you want to know more about Juhannus and the festivities described above.