Scandinavia – A guide to celebrating midsummer

People in Scandinavia celebrate the approach of summer and light for six days from June 20 to June 26 each year; and whether tourists find themselves in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark or Iceland at that time, they can expect plenty of fun-filled events, colourful displays and gastronomic experiences to savour.

Midsummer marks the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the calendar year and the official start of the new season. Here’s how travellers can make the most of the celebrations and what to expect.

Sweden

sweden

Midsummer in Scandinavia is one of the most important holidays in the Swedish calendar. Dalarna in central Sweden is where the magic happens. Make your way there for views of traditional red cottages and lots of smiling locals singing and dancing around the maypole.

Head to a bar or restaurant a few days before Midsummer’s Eve – and make an effort to befriend a local. Getting an invite to a private celebration at someone’s landställe, or summer house, is the best way to experience the holiday fully. Otherwise, head to a public park or bask in the sun lakeside and wait for the celebration to find you.

On the day before Midsummer’s Eve, Swedes venture out to pick flowers and birch leaves that they use to decorate their maypoles. A hearty lunch is enjoyed on Midsummer’s Eve, with delicacies such as moose, baked salmon, boiled potatoes sprinkled generously with dill, and pickled herring.

The traditional dessert is fresh strawberries with elderflower ice cream, washed down with local beer and spiced vodka.

sweden

“While in Dalarna, also be sure to stop by Carl Larsson-gården, the artist’s old residence perfectly preserved by his children in his memory – a work of art in and of itself,” comments Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation in South Africa, which includes popular guided travel brand, Costsaver.

“Costsaver’s trips to Scandinavia include all of the essentials but allow travellers to add a variety of optional extras to tailor-make their perfect itinerary.

Visiting these Scandinavian countries during the Midsummer celebrations will give many opportunities to enjoy the festivities with the locals,” she adds.

Norway

In Norway Midsummer, or Jonsok, is celebrated by hosting bonfires, but you may still find a few maypoles and hand-made wreaths. While the Norwegians don’t celebrate Midsummer quite as enthusiastically as the Swedes and the Finns, it’s still an important holiday.

Bonfire evenings are light-hearted, warm-spirited gatherings for friends and family, with the fire acting as a symbol of protection and representing the sun.

The fire is also thought to enhance the sun’s strength and power, leading to a rich, temperate summer. As the celebrations are traditional, most Norwegians insist that only flint or sticks are used to light the bonfire.

Locals also still follow many age-old Midsummer traditions. For example, girls are urged to collect seven different types of herbs on Midsummer’s Eve and hide them underneath their pillow.

The magic of the herbs is said to elicit a dream of a suitable future husband who will treat them with love and kindness.

Sweet treats are a common indulgence on Midsummer’s Eve in Norway, with children and adults eating their fill of perfectly ripe strawberries, and homemade pancakes topped with melted butter and spoonfuls of sugar.

Finland

Finland

Juhannus is the Midsummer festival held in Finland. As in most other countries in Scandinavia, the bulk of the festivities takes place on Midsummer’s Eve, and everyone is encouraged to get involved.

Most areas in Finland have a policy in place that states that all businesses and shops must close their doors by noon so that locals can make their way to their summer homes for a sunshine-filled holiday.

Upon arrival, most Finns will set themselves up to spend a few hours in the sauna with an ice-cold drink ready for the party to follow. They place birch trees on either side of the front door to welcome guests and often hoist the Finnish flag.

Finnish Midsummer celebrations are usually more festive, with plenty of singing, dancing and drinking around the kokko, or bonfire, which is traditionally lit alongside a body of water.

The belief is that the more a Finn drinks on Midsummer, the more abundant their harvest will be the following year, and the louder they get, the better their luck will be.

Finns also indulge in a satisfying feast but will spend some time grilling sausages over the fire before tucking in.

Denmark

Denmark

The Danes refer to Midsummer as Sankt Hans and typically celebrate it on June 23. Similar to Finland and Norway, bonfires play a significant role. The only difference is that it’s a much less private affair.

In Denmark, most bonfire parties take place at around 10pm in public areas, such as the beach or town square where locals gather to relish in the joys of the season with friends and visitors. Be sure to bring your own snobrød (bread dough) rolled onto a wooden stick, and sausages to cook over the fire.

A traditional Danish feast is usually held in the garden at home before families head to the local bonfire party. The feast is most commonly a buffet, brimming with local favourites and a good dose of Tuborg beer.

“I signed up to go on the Costsaver Highlights of Scandinavia getaway not too long ago, and we were lucky enough to find ourselves in Denmark for Midsummer.

We attended a local bonfire party at the beach and had so much fun. Such a magical holiday – it was actually the highlight of our trip,” says Fiona Callahan, a dental assistant from Durban.

Iceland

Iceland

Jónsmessa in Iceland is a slightly more low-key event but still packed with joy. It is celebrated on June 24 and is revered as a magical night where animals can transform and communicate with humans, and mischievous elves venture out from their hideaways. 

On this special day, many superstitious Icelanders lay naked in the grass to take full advantage of the powerful healing powers that the fresh morning dew is said to possess.

While some locals may choose to celebrate the occasion at home with their loved ones, others head to the various festivals and music events scattered around the country.

The lively Brák Festival in western Iceland boasts entertaining parades and fun-filled activities, such as mud-football matches, while the Bright Nights Festival is a top choice for culture, food and music galore.

Colourful cheer. Abundant feasts. Temperate sunshine. Lifelong memories. Celebrating Midsummer in Scandinavia is a must for any traveller.

Story by Bianca Delport

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