The beauty of Midsummer

Bonfires lighting up pale skies, diving into the deep fjords. Barbeques down by the water. Summery tunes from accordions and guitars, accompanied by the carefree voices or dancing footsteps of friends and families, celebrating a seemingly endless midsummer night. June 23 is St. Hans Aften (St.John’s Eve) in Norway, and there are numerous reasons to celebrate.

The name St. Hans originates from the well-known biblical figure John, born June 24. Up until 1770, St. Hans was a public holiday in Norway. However, it is the night before, St. John’s Eve, that Norwegians gather to celebrate.

And while the religious aspect of the celebration is key to understanding the history of the celebration and its various forms, June 23 marks the middle of summer, and holds the promise of the longest and brightest day of the year. On this day, the sun will turn, gradually reducing the hours of sunlight as summer turns into fall.

A night of magic

The bonfire tradition, which is particularly prevalent along the coast, goes back to pagan days, and was believed to produce fertile soil, while protecting from witches and evil spirits. Some believed the witches to be especially active on midsummer nights, gathering their witchcraft ingredients and preparing for witchery at evil gatherings.

The magic of the fire was seen as a remedy against the evil magic of the witches. However, not only was the fire seen as magic; so were plants and herbs – a belief that gave birth to a tradition that may still be found today: If a girl could find seven different sorts of flowers and hide them under her pillow on midsummer night, her dreams would reveal the image of her future husband.

Celebrated around the world

Most European countries celebrate midsummer, although the traditions vary greatly. Norway’s midsummer celebrations aren’t as elaborate as the Swedish equivalent. While the Swedes get the day off, June 23 is a normal workday in Norway.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.