SCANDINAVIAN SUMMER :: Midsommar, Noc Kupały, and Juhannus

midsommar midsommarafton via mokkasin
Image Credit: Midsommarafton [midsummer] via Mokkasin

One midsummer when I was probably eleven or so, I remember spending the weekend at my great-grandparents’ lakeside cabin in Upper Michigan. The scenery everywhere up there looks exactly like this, even though these photos are from Finland, and not Michigan. Fascinating, isn’t it, considering how many Nordic immigrants settled in the Upper Peninsula?

Brett Seward
Image Credit: Sweden in summer by Brett Seward

That weekend, in between carving my name in the paper-white bark of birch trees, eating sour wild strawberries and floating in the cold lake, I remember the Finnish-language program Suomi Kutsuu playing on the little living room TV, showing what seemed like endless footage of a bonfire slowly burning in the middle of the lake. I didn’t put two and two together then — I wasn’t what you’d call an observant child — but I was at my great-grandparents’ place over Juhannus!  Although you might not know Juhannus by name, you probably know Swedish midsommar, and you most certainly know summer solstice.

Midsommar crown
Image Credit: Crown by Mendocino Floral Design via Style Me Pretty

In the northern US states of Michigan or Minnesota, both around latitude 46° N, the summer solstice marks a magically late sunset — no wonder I didn’t get much sleep that weekend! Can you imagine midsummer’s eve in Stockholm or Helsinki, at 60° N? Incredible, the daylight must stretch on forever! [As a comparison, Orlando is at 28.4° N, and Oaxaca, where I was born, is even further down at 16.9° N)

Midsummer traditions vary among different Northern European countries, but my favorites are the lake bonfires, or kokko, of Finnish Juhannus, the floral crowns of Swedish Midsommar, and the glittering floating lanterns of Poland’s Noc Kupały.

Although a sky full of lanterns or a water’s edge bonfire might be a bit hard to pull off where you live, you can still celebrate midsommar. Do you have plans this weekend? Maybe you’ll celebrate with a maypole and a Swedish smörgåsbord (pickled herring and dill potatoes!), or maybe you’ll gather flowers and make a pretty floral crown.

Or, maybe, your nod to the summer solstice will simply be tossing and turning, wishing you’d purchased blackout drapes. ;)

However you celebrate, god midsommar!

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