Today marks the first day of summer and the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. It is a time of celebration in many parts of the world. Regions of Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia and the Baltics, welcome the arrival of summer with Midsummer holidays that usually occur between June 21 and June 25. For these countries, Midsummer is a significant event. In fact, Visit Sweden, Sweden’s official website for tourism and travel information, describes Midsummer as “the most important holiday in the Swedish calendar” next to Christmas.
Like Christmas, Midsummer combines pagan rituals with Christian beliefs. It often includes a celebration of the feast day of St. John the Baptist on June 24th, which is also known as St. John’s Day.
Maypoles are not just for May. Some Midsummer festivals include dancing around a maypole. Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that maypole dances “are survivals of ancient dances around a living tree as part of spring rites to ensure fertility” and that they can “occur at midsummer in Scandinavia and at other festivals elsewhere.”
Maypole (midsommarstång) on Gålö, Sweden
Date: 21 June 2008
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By Mikael Häggström (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Midsummer celebration at Årsnäs, by the coast from Kode, Solberga församling.
Date: June 2005
Bonfires and More
Lighting a bonfire to ward off evil spirits is a common Midsummer practice. Another one is to jump over a bonfire for good luck or good health.
Midsummer festival bonfire (Mäntsälä, Finland)
Date: 20 June 2003
Traditional Midsummer Night Festival bonfire in Lappeenranta, Finland
Other festivities can occur around the bonfires.
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Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfires, Helsinki, Finland. Folk dancers wearing national costumes
Date: 22 June 2012, 21:57:37
Source: Flickr: IMG_8673
Flower wreaths are an important part of many Midsummer celebrations. Some wreaths are decorations, while others are involved in various Midsummer rituals. Flower wreaths are usually worn by girls and women. However, in Latvia, men wear wreaths made of oak leaves.
Midsummer Crown, Vaxholm, Sweden, 2009
Date: 19 June 2009, 14:12:01
Source: Flickr: IMG_7085-1
June 21st 173/366
It’s an ancient Slavic tradition to send flower wreaths floating down the river on the Solstice. Today, it’s not just maidens that do it- and in Warsaw, we take it to the extreme with a ‘wianek’ of epic proportions which we let go into the Vistula. Hooray Midsummer!
Date: 21 June 2008, 19:45:24
Source: Flickr: 173/366: Midsummer
While Midsummer is a time for everyone to relax and enjoy life, it is a magical moment for young people, especially young girls looking for love. Midsummer is filled with romantic superstitions. For instance, young girls in Norway and unmarried women in Finland place flowers under their pillows during Midsummer to dream of their future husbands. In some parts of Romania, Midsummer celebrations consist of Sânziene rituals that incorporate both fertility themes and fortune-telling. Wikipedia describes these rituals as follows:
The folk practices of Sânziene imply that the most beautiful maidens in the village dress in white and spend all day searching for and picking flowers, of which one MUST be Galium verum (Lady’s bedstraw or Yellow bedstraw) which in Romanian is also named “Sânziànă”. Using the flowers they picked during the day, the girls braid floral crowns which they wear upon returning to the village at nightfall. There they meet with their beloved and they dance around a bonfire. The crowns are thrown over the houses, and whenever the crown falls, it is said that someone will die in that house; if the crown stays on the roof of the house, then good harvest and wealth will be bestowed upon the owners. As with other bonfire celebrations, jumping over the embers after the bonfire is not raging anymore is done to purify the person and also to bring health.
Another folk belief is that during the Sânziene Eve night, the heavens open up, making it the strongest night for magic spells, especially for the love spells . . .
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Galium verum, Rubiaceae, Lady’s Bedstraw, Yellow Bedstraw, flowers; Karlsruhe, Germany. The plant is used in homeopathy as remedy: Galium verum (Gali-v.)
Date: 30 May 2009
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Sânzienele at Cricău Festival 2013
Date: 22 June 2013, 18:54:24
Even though you may not have any elaborate rituals planned for the summer solstice, I hope your first day of summer is a wonderful one. 🙂