Sankt Hans Aften
June 22nd, 2010
Sankt Hans Aften (Saint John's Eve) began as Pagan midsummer's eve festival in pre-Christian times and was thought to be the most magical night of the year, for both good and evil spirits. June 24th is the longest day of the year on the Roman calendar, making the eve of the 23rd the shortest. Rituals were first practiced by the Vikings, who believed that evil spirits became devious and free on the shortest night of the year. A bonfire was built to ward the spirits away and a visit to the healing waters of a well would keep one safe and healthy. Throughout Europe, the legends vary but the celebration is relatively similar. In England, it was believed that if you leapt over the midsummer bonfire without lighting your britches afire, you were bound to have good luck throughout the year. After the fire had cooled, carrying a small pouch of the ashes could also protect you from misfortune and if you sowed them into your garden, it would reap a bountiful crop. In Norway, legend has it that if a woman sleeps with a flower under her pillow on midsummer's eve, she'll dream of her future husband. For Sweden, it is very much a celebration of fertility, with the Maypole at the center of the festivals. Decorated with greenery and ribbons, the tradition of dancing around the pole is thought to bring love and a good harvest. In Denmark, a witch made of straw and cloth is often burnt in the fire in remembrance of the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Throughout Scandinavia, herbs collected on the eve of the summer solstice are thought to most potent for use in healing remedies and swags are still hung over doorways on houses in Sweden.
As a Pagan festival, Midsummer was a celebration of the summer solstice, fertility, and new growth with rituals to hopefully ensure a good harvest. Dances and songs are still common around the bonfire, though now its quite common to have a Carlsberg in hand. Whether its the warm weather, the glow of the bonfire, or the Carlsberg, folklore says its a night of new love. In any case, any reason to have a bonfire is a good one, so gather some good friends and bring yourselves some good luck!
If you'd like to attend a more traditional Danish midsummer festival close to home, the Danish American Center will be hosting a Sankt Hans Aften celebration on Saturday, June 26th.
Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics