After so many years of trying to participate in the Sankt Hans celebration, I finally managed to do so! I have been trying for the last six years, but thunderstorms, drought, and two years of corona successfully canceled it each time I’ve attempted to.
So what is Sankt Hans, and what is it all about?
Sankt Hans, or Midsommer, is not only a Danish tradition, as Midsummer celebrations are happening in many places around Europe. It is the festival of fire, water, sun and moon, fertility, joy, and love, commonly celebrated in areas inhabited by Slavic peoples, but also by the Baltic, Germanic and Celtic peoples, as well as by some Finno-Ugric peoples. Sankt Hans itself is a pagan tradition that has been incorporated into Christianity and thus celebrates both the pagan part, the longest day of the year – the summer solstice, and John the Baptist’s Birthday.
Celebration in Denmark
On the eve of Sankt Hans Danes, light bonfires in parks, beaches, lakes, and the city center canals, celebrating the year’s longest day. The celebration is usually accompanied by music, dancing, and some speeches. In many places, the puppet of a witch is burned on the stake, though this year was a little special, and the coronavirus puppet was burned in Frederiksborg Castle.
Celebration in Sweden
Swedes are really crazy about it, to the point that Midsummer Day is even a public holiday. Traditionally people gather around Maypole to dance and sing. Some people wear folk costumes, and many adjourn a flower crown on their heads. I was lucky to join the fun in Stockholm a couple of years ago, which was an unforgettable experience.
Celebrations in Poland
In Poland, there are still some celebrations of Midsummer following old customs, though I never took part in one. It is not as widely celebrated as in Denmark or Sweden.
Midsummer has different names based on the area of Poland. On the sounth of Poland the celebrations are called sobótka, in Warmia and Mazury region – palinocka. In other parts, people call it Kupała Night or Świętojańska Night.
In the old days, it was a night for couples to become connected. As most marriages in that time were arranged, it was not easy to date each other. During this particular night, girls wove wreaths of flowers and magical herbs, pinned flaming torches into them, and entrusted wreaths to the waters of rivers and streams in a collective ceremony with singing and dancing. Waiting below were boys who – either in secret agreement with the girls or hoping for a stroke of luck – were trying to pick up the wreaths. Anyone who did so returned to the celebrating crowd to identify the owner of the catch. In this way, the chosen young couple could form pairs without violating tradition 🙂 Later they took a walk in the forest to look for the magical fern flower <wink, wink>. They returned to the burning fires at dawn, holding hands, to jump over the flames, which ended the rite of going through water and fire.
As I mentioned, a lot of countries in Europe are celebrating Midsummer, but so far, I have only been exposed to Danish, Swedish, and Polish traditions. If I venture into other countries during this magical day, I will sure update 🙂