This weekend is one of the biggest holidays in Finland, Midsummer a.k.a. Juhannus. Tomorrow we celebrate Midsummer's Eve, which just as Christmas Eve, is the most important day.
Most Finns scatter into the woods, to the shores of the lakes and the sea, making our cities ghost towns, closing down everything. From now on much of Finland will be on hold, until August when people return to work and to the cities and towns.
I'll be travelling north, to my hometown and our summer cottage early tomorrow morning after work, to be by the sea, out in the nature, enjoying the midnight sun, doing some Midsummer night magic, sitting in the sauna, listen to the birds.... According to the forecast the sun will rise at 2:19 and set at 0:21. Just a tad further north the sun doesn't rise or set at all.
So what does Midsummer mean to Finns then, what is it all about? Well, we just take our clothes off and run into the woods.
Hah, no, but in fact, that isn't far from the truth either, :). 9 months later a record amount of kids will be born and as much of the celebrations center around the sauna, well being naked is a key.
The celebrations of course have pagan roots, it was earlier celebrated as the feast of Ukko, the Finnish god of fertility, weather, and growth. Not much has changed... it's still all about those things.
It's about decorating everything with birch twigs, about burning huge bonfires and dancing. And a lot of booze. Every year a number of people drown during this weekend, mainly men. The archetype is a drunken man who gets on a oarboat, and somewhere further away from the shore decides it's time to take a pee. He stands up in the boat, and voila, in he goes. One always guesses, how many will it be this year? It's a sad tradition, but an unavoidable one, as a large part of the nation is drinking to get drunk this holiday.
This outtake from the Finnish mythology (written down by Michael Agricola in the 16th century) is quite telling.... :
And when Spring sowing was done, the toast of Ukko was drunk. The goblet of Ukko was brought forth and so both the maids and matrons got drunk. Then a lot of shameful things were done which were both heard and seen. When Rauni*) made love to Ukko in durst**), gallantly Ukko down there burst. It so made the weather and coming of water.
*) Rauni = Ukko's spouse, also called Akka.
**) Durst = old english: 'dare'; original word 'härsky' means 'in heat'.
(I didn't actually know that bit of the mythology.... I did know that Ukko was the god of thunder, but I did NOT know that the sound of thunder was created when Ukko.... well, spread his seeds. How... peculiar. And somehow, reading that short text makes me understand my own people a bit better. Suddenly everything makes sense. Which is kinda scary... :D)
I will enjoy my time on our beloved cottage, and I will also gather in complete silence seven different flowers to put under my pillow. Maybe I'll dream of the man who is supposed to be mine, :). There are all kinds of tricks a maiden can do this night, even if said maiden isn't one of the youngest girls around anymore.
Here's a couple of links depicting some of the Midsummer traditions in Finland, if you're interested:
Do you celebrate Midsummer in your country? If so, how?