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Midsummer has been celebrated for many centuries and some traditions predate Christianity. Traditionally all turning points of the solar year were celebrated, and midsummer was originally celebrated as the summer solstice. That is when the nights are shortest of the year in the northern hemisphere. Midsummer used to be celebrated in many countries, but now only the Nordic and Baltic countries hold celebrations, probably because that is where the differences in seasons can be seen so clearly.

In 1316 this pagan party became a Christian one because the church did not approve of the heathen traditions. Midsummer and the birthday of St. John the Baptist fell on almost the same day and it was convenient for the Church to combine these two events and eradicate the pagan customs. But the Church wasn’t very successful; people were used to all the prophecy and magic. Since 1954, Midsummer has been celebrated on the Saturday that falls between June 20 and 26. In Swedish, it is called midsommar, in Finnish it is juhannus.

Midsummer has been an event full of customs and superstitions, most of which have to do with weather, wealth and future life partners. During the 19th century, superstitions were the most essential part of festivities. It was believed that demons and witches were on the move at Midsummer and they had to be driven away. That is why people made loud noises and built bonfires. Over the centuries fires burned all over Europe: in Russia, Scandinavia, the Alpine countries and Ireland. Presently Finland is about the only country which still holds this tradition. In Sweden they replaced bonfires with Midsummer poles in the 19th century. In the Swedish-speaking parts of Finland maypoles that are decorated with foliage have replaced the bonfires.

Treasure fires were believed to burn during the darkest time of this short night. Spirits and ghosts cleaned their valuables of mould and rust by putting them into the fire. These treasures were said to date back to the wars Finland had gone through; people used to hide their valuables in the ground when the enemy was coming. These treasures were guarded by spirits and fierce animals, and one could get the treasures if he could answer the questions asked by the guards.

The forest-fern is a plant which never blooms. However, they were said to bloom and produce seed for a brief period during Midsummer night. Anyone who collected a seed or a flower could become invisible, beautiful, healthy and rich. This belief was taken so seriously that in 1612 the Catholic Church forbade collecting forest-fern seeds on Midsummer night.

During olden times, predicting weather was a big part of Midsummer. Farmers tried to find signs of the forthcoming harvest and started to get ready for hay-making and harvest. During those early times, people didn’t clean their houses or wash their clothes as often as we do today. They usually did those chores before the big celebrations of Christmas and Midsummer. They also washed themselves, and going to sauna was a main event of Midsummer. There was one night when all sexual laws of peasant society were suspended. That was the short Midsummer's Eve. An old saying: Midsummer night is not long, but it sets many a cradle rocking.

Midsummer never had traditional foods such as are eaten today at Christmas, for example. One reason was the shortage of food people suffered from during the spring and into Midsummer. They usually ate dairy products because cows started giving milk again after the harsh winter. Presently people eat sausages, new potatoes, herring, and pancakes during Midsummer.

Getting drunk during Midsummer has a long tradition. In earlier times drinking alcohol was supposed to help get a good harvest. Alcohol is one of the things people most generally associate with Midsummer. Statistics show that five times more alcohol is sold during the day before Midsummer Eve than any other day.

Nature played a big part during Midsummer. Most decorations that were used date back to pre-Christian times. They decorated rooms with flower garlands, greenery and birth branches to bring the fresh forest aroma indoors. And some people thought it might bring good luck with their cattle. In Ostrobothnia, people brought long slim spruce to their yards. In 1734 using branches or young trees for decorations was forbidden because it was thought to be a threat to the forests in Finland. Later this order was repealed.

Midsummer is thought to be a favorable time to find a partner. Many weddings take place on Midsummer during. Most of the Midsummer spells have to do with seeing your future husband’s face. According to one tradition, you were supposed to pick nine different flowers and put them under your pillow and you would see him in your dreams. If you already knew who you wanted, there were many ways of making him want you. For example, you could go to the boy’s field and roll around the field naked.

Although Midsummer was mainly a rural celebration, city people also participate. Many people go to their summer cottages and go fishing, or sleep late. In earlier times people went to church. It is an important summer event: the celebration of the mid-point of summer and also National Flag Day (since 1934). Sometimes the ecclesiastical meaning is forgotten, but it is an important day for the Church and is a popular day for confirmation and getting married.

Extracted from the Internet.

June Pelo

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