Everything you need to know about Finnish Midsummer
Although Midsummer in Finland, or Juhannus as it is known in Finnish, does share some qualities with its neighboring Sweden, Finnish Midsummer traditions are unique and detailed. The Finnish nightless nights provide an unforgettable backdrop to the summery festival, and nature in Finland is at its lushest bloom around that time.
Most people are familiar with the concept of Midsummer, the celebration of summer solstice that is observed around the world. Nordic countries are particularly well known for their extensive Midsummer celebrations, but many foreigners misguidedly believe the Swedish Midsummer traditions to be the norm of Midsummer celebrations.
If you associate the idea of Midsummer in Northern Europe with dancing around a maypole, you are not alone, but the Finnish Midsummer carries its own magic and memorable traditions. And not a maypole in sight!
Many Finns consider Midsummer their favorite holiday of the year and one of the best times of the beloved Finnish summer, and soon you´ll understand why.
Midsummer in Finland is celebrated on the Saturday between the 20th and 26th of June. Midsummer used to be a celebration of Ukko, the ancient Finnish god of weather and harvest, to ensure a robust harvest season.
Alcohol has been a part of the Finnish Midsummer since the beginning of the tradition, as it was believed that the louder the celebrations were, the further evil spirits would stay, and the drunker the people, the better the harvest. Different spells and magic were considered a pivotal part of Midsummer early on, and some remain popular to this day.
In modern Finland, many consider Midsummer to be one of the most important celebrations of the year, therefore only essential businesses remain open. Midsummer Eve, is the Friday before Midsummer and although it is not an official holiday, most businesses and stores close their doors already on Friday.
The days before Midsummer are some of the busiest — if not the busiest, after Christmas — days at local supermarkets, as Finns prepare for the long weekend by stocking up on barbecue food, alcohol, and snacks.
Although Midsummer is technically, as its name suggests, the midway point of summer, many Finns tend to consider it to be the beginning of real summer, as June tends to be quite chilly in Finland and warmer weather arrives (if it arrives..) in July and August.
The busiest holiday season begins at Midsummer, when a lot of Finns start their annual vacation periods.
Any first-time tourist wandering around Helsinki during the Midsummer week is likely to be quite confused: where is everyone? The capital is a ghost town during that time, with most businesses closed and the streets vacant.
The explanation is quite simple: Finns are at their summer cottages. More than half a million summer cottages exist in Finland (bear in mind that there are only 5.5 million Finns) and those who are not fortunate enough to own one often pool money together to rent one for the Midsummer weekend.
Although the concept of city-Juhannus, a city Midsummer, has become increasingly popular among young Finns, for many the thought of spending the weekend anywhere except on a pier overlooking the water with the woods humming behind them is a sacrilege.
Families gather in multiple generations to spend the holiday together eating, drinking, boating, playing cards, swimming and taking a sauna, fishing and playing such popular games as Mölkky.
The weather is an important factor on how the weekend goes; some years, Midsummer is celebrated in a cold drizzle, with temperatures near 10 degrees Celsius.
On better years, the sun shines brightly throughout the day and night and the lake or sea is warm enough to spend hours in — while going back and forth to the sauna, of course.
How long is Midsummer in Finland?
Midsummer may officially only be one day out of the year, but in Finland the entire week before the Midsummer Saturday is considered part of the event. Businesses start to slowly wind down their projects and people begin to prepare themselves mentally for a weekend of relaxation and enjoyment.
Since many Finns take their summer vacations after Midsummer, it is often the beginning of a longer break and the unofficial start of summer.
Midsummer always takes place close to the longest day of the year, summer solstice. The contrast between Midsummer and the shortest day of the year is quite stark: in Helsinki, for example, there is sunlight for approximately 19 hours of the day, when in winter the shortest day of the year in the capital sees less than six hours of sunlight.
In Rovaniemi in Northern Finland, the shortest day of the year includes two hours of sunlight and the longest day is 24 hours, meaning that the sun does not set at all. Midsummer revelers in northern Finland should definitely stock up on some eye masks and blackout curtains!
Finnish Midsummer traditions
Traditions are an integral part of the Finnish Midsummer experience. Some are quirkier than others and all carry a special meaning, even if the original purpose has long been forgotten — many things that modern Finns consider to just naturally be a part of Midsummer actually have long-reaching histories.
Here are some of the most notable Finnish Midsummer traditions:
Food and alcohol
Like most people, Finns love to eat and drink, and Midsummer is definitely no exception. As mentioned, Midsummer celebrations in the olden days revolved around ensuring a healthy harvest season, which people believed could be achieved by scaring away evil spirits by being as loud and rowdy as possible.
Finns today may not be aware of this history, but alcohol is still a large part of the Finnish Midsummer celebrations: some of the largest alcohol sales throughout the country are made before Midsummer weekend.
Beer and cider are the usual Finnish favorites, but hard liquors are popular as well.
As for food, think summery and light, even if the weather is drab in typical Finnish fashion. Early potatoes, which are typically ready for harvest in June, are a Finnish favorite.
A pot of steaming early potatoes, a sprinkling of fresh dill, and a hefty serving of butter: you don’t get much more Finnish than that, and some Finns may even go as far as saying that nothing more is needed for a perfect meal.
Herring in different sauces, such as a creamy mustard or an aioli-type garlic dressing, can be found on Finnish Midsummer meals. In fact, all fish is quite popular: a smoked salmon, whitefish, or perch is a staple, as is all grilled food.
One of the oldest traditions of Finnish Midsummer is juhannustaika, magic rituals. Early Finns believed the night of Midsummer to be a particularly potent one, and most of the rituals performed on Midsummer are centered around the idea of finding the perfect suitor.
In perhaps the most popular one, young women pick seven different wildflowers from a field and place them under their pillows to see the face of their chosen one in their dreams.
In another, the girl or woman peeks into a well at midnight — in the nude, if possible — to see the face of her suitor in the reflection. Green fern was believed to only bloom that night, resulting in people hoarding the plant to receive good fortune and luck in love.
The bonfire is perhaps the most iconic image of the Finnish Midsummer celebration. When the night finally begins to set late in the Midsummer evening, Finns light a bonfire by the water or on the water (carried by a raft). The bonfire tradition was originally born as an attempt to keep evil spirits at bay.
What would a Finnish celebration be without a sauna? There is a sauna for every occasion, including Christmas and, of course, Midsummer. Juhannussauna, the Midsummer sauna, traditionally took place during the day so the bathers would be clean for the special nightless Midsummer night and ready to perform magic rituals.
Today, Finns heat up the sauna at any time during the Midsummer weekend. A traditional vihta, made from birch branches and used to beating one’s own back with, is an important part of the Midsummer sauna experience.
Juhannustanssit, the Midsummer dance, is an informal event that takes place in a barn or an open outdoors area. The tradition dates back to the 1800s but was particularly popular throughout the 1950’s and ‘60s.
The Seurasaari island off the coast of Helsinki has hosted a Midsummer celebration since 1954 and is one of the best spots to take part in the juhannustanssit tradition in the capital area.
A wedding on a nightless night, on one of the most magical evenings of the year? To many couples, that is the goal. Midsummer used to be the most sought-after wedding day in Finland, but the tradition wore off in the 1980s and 1990s out of fear of ruining the guests’ plans for the long weekend.
Midsummer weddings could indeed be tricky — since most businesses close for the Midsummer weekend, unexpected problems may be difficult to fix.
Midsummer weddings are still not uncommon, and nature often plays a notable part: if the unpredictable Finnish summer weather allows, the celebration often takes place outside, and other Finnish Midsummer traditions like sauna and flower crowns may be incorporated into the event.
Flowers play an important part in Midsummer in Finland, from the spells cast with freshly picked wildflowers to the crowns adorning the heads of both children and adults. Like many Finnish Midsummer traditions, the flower crown was originally believed to attract love and good fortune.
The person making the crown was supposed to keep completely quiet during the process and lay the crown by their pillow to ensure they would see the face of their true love in their dreams.
Today, most Finns make and wear the crowns for a much simpler reason: they’re pretty.
Juhannuskoivu, the Midsummer birch, is both a decoration and a belief. Birch tree branches were traditionally cut down and hung on the sides of the front door on Midsummer to keep spirits away and bring fertility and good health to the house. Farmers used to also attach birch branches to their cattle to ensure plenty of milk in the future.
In later times, branches were simply hung and laid on doorsteps to decorate the house with the tree that represented Finnish nature and Midsummer best — after all, birch is the national tree of Finland, and the tree used for making the sauna accessory vihta.
Midsummer festivals in Finland
For those who would prefer to spend Midsummer surrounded by large crowds and music, Midsummer festivals are perfect. These events derive from the Finnish tradition of gathering to join Midsummer as a group, whether consisting of family, local community, or both.
The Himos Juhannus Festival is the largest and oldest of Midsummer festivals in Finland, drawing more than 40,000 attendees every year. Since Midsummer is a very Finnish holiday, all of the performing artists are from Finland. Tahko Juhannus, which takes place at the Tahko ski resort, is also popular.
Raumanmeren Juhannus claims to be the biggest beachfront festival in the country and, weather permitting, does offer an ideal setting for a Midsummer celebration.
Celebrating the Finnish Midsummer
Midsummer in Finland is filled with magic, nature, and good spirit. It is one of the most important holidays of the year for Finns, and to be abroad or to work during Midsummer weekend is a nightmare scenario for many of them.
Finnish Midsummer represents unwinding, spending time with family and friends, and celebrating what Finns wait for throughout the long, cold, dark winter: the short but lush Finnish summer.
As Finns raise the blue and white flag on its pole on Midsummer Eve, they can all agree on one thing: the next two days will be dedicated to relaxation and fun only. The city streets may be empty, but the real Finnish Midsummer can be found by the water and, of course, in the sauna.
The Finnish sauna (pronounced ‘Sow-na’) is a substantial part of Finnish culture. There are five million inhabitants and over two million saunas in Finland – an average of one per household. This excl. in offices, factories, sports centers, hotels, ships and deep below the ground in mines.
Watching ice hockey from the warmth of a stadium sauna box in Helsinki
For Finnish people the sauna is very important. They say that when a Finnish family plans to build a house, the first thing they build is a sauna.