Today is Saint John’s Eve, the eve of celebration before Saint John the Baptist’s birthday. It’s quite peculiar that what is commemorated here is the birthday and not the death of said Saint; usually it is their death day that is being honored. The Bible says that St. John was born 6 months before Jesus, so they fixed his b-day on June 24th. In Scandinavia – the feast is held the evening before – i.e. the 23rd of June, which is today. Yeeeeeey!
Now why am I so excited about this? I am an atheist and have no reason to celebrate religious feasts like St. Johns Eve and X-mas. Well, I have one reason: Bonfires! Big bonfires! The bonfires the kids look at with Awe!
The Feast of Saint John closely coincides with the June solstice, and that is actually what is celebrated. In fact – the way we celebrate was deemed immoral by the church all the way back from the Reformation in the 16th century.
In Norway the evening is called Sankt Hans or Jonsok, and the tradition is to gather around a large bonfire on the beach and have a nice time with family, friends and neighbors. It’s a celebration of summer, of the light summer nights. We roast hotdogs on a stick over the fire, chat, sing, dance, and laugh.
The Swedes have the best celebration of St. Johns Eve; Midsommar Afton! (Midsummers eve) – originally a fertility festival. They eat a type of herring (really yummy) and raise a May Pole and dance around it. The old traditions have survived better in Sweden then in Denmark and Norway. Sweden is the place to experience this feast!
Here in Denmark the kids will make Witch dolls that they dress up in old clothes. The creator of the most evil looking Witch will be rewarded. Then they burn the Witches on the bonfire. (I am not particularly fond of that tradition, but hey – this time around it’s not real people being burned on grounds of false accusations of Witchcraft.) Other than that, it is as in Norway and Sweden – with family fun and partying and good fun.