At 6pm on June 22nd the festival of juhannus begins in Finland, at the same time as the Finnish flag is raised on all public buildings.
The celebration of Midsummer in Finland has its roots in pre-Christian traditions when Finns celebrated Ukon juhla, the feast of Ukko, who was the pagan god of fertility and growth, and of the weather. With the introduction of Christianity to Finland, the festival was co-opted and became known as juhannus, named after St. John the Baptist (Johannes Kastaja), and was celebrated on his saint’s day, June 24th. In 1955, thanks to efforts by labour organisations, the celebration was fixed to the Saturday that falls between June 20th and 26th. Today, the celebrations are a mix of both pagan and Christian traditions.
Although juhannus is one of, if not the, biggest festivals in the Finnish calendar, this can be hard to tell for visitors to the country, as Finland’s towns and cities are mostly deserted over the weekend. Unlike the manic celebrations of vappu (May Day), Finns usually use this holiday weekend to get away to their summer cottages with family or friends where they party or relax together. The traditional elements of the juhannus celebrations are a bonfire, or kokko, usually by the edge of a lake (although often on floating structures on the lake itself), visits to the sauna, dips in the lake, and of course feasting. Nowadays fishing and boating have become commonplace activities during juhannus, and the use of barbecues is ever-growing in popularity. Older traditions, such as casting Midsummer spells, are less prevalent, although in some regions young girls will pick flowers on Midsummer Night to place under the pillows in the hopes of seeing their future spouse in their dreams.
Not everyone will leave for the countryside on juhannus. In Helsinki, for example, the island of Seurasaari hosts the biggest Midsummer festivities in the city. This year the Seurasaari Midsummer Bonfires will be held for the 57thtime, with a whole raft of entertainments for
families to enjoy. In addition to the many bonfires, there is the raising of the midsummer pole, handicrafts exhibitions, logging displays, casting of spells, a play, and traditional Finnish folk dancing and music. Midsummer is a popular time for Finnish couples to get wed, and in Seurasaari the wedding becomes part of the festival. The newly-weds walk to the festival ground under a colorful, traditionally made canopy, followed by folk dancers, before being rowed to a nearby island, where they are afforded the honour of lighting up the main bonfire. The celebrations begin at 6pm and continue into the small hours of the morning, with tickets costing 18€ (children under 15 admitted free) and available at the bridge to the island. You can get there on the 24 bus, the journey takes about 15 minutes.
Elsewhere in the city much of Helsinki’s youth will be busy reviving the Midsummer dance tradition, many of them on beaches but also in some of the clubs. Part of the fun is dressing up in retro styles. Beyond Helsinki, there are a number of music festivals being held this weekend across the country, featuring home grown talent playing all kinds of music.
One of the biggest of these is The Voice Juhannus Himosfestival, held in Jämsä, which begins on the 21st, and which features most of the biggest names in Finnish pop and rock. This year’s event will see stars such as Michael Monroe, Poets of the Fall, PMMP, Paleface, Chisu, Fintelligens, Jukka-Poika & Sound Explosion Band, Eppu Normaali, Lauri Tähkä, and Apulanta performing over the three days.
Also kicking off on the 21st in Hotelli Ellivuori is the 90th Rock’n'Roll Jamboree, which features some great old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll with bands such as Hard Fall Hearts, Belmont Playboys, Gizzelle, Lucky Tubb & The Modern Day Troubadours, Six Gun Republic, Koffin Kats and Jesse Dayton’s Roadkings, all of whom hail from the USA; plus from the UK there is Graveyard Johnny’s, Porky’s Hot Rockin’, and Space Cadets; while Australia is represented by Ezra Lee and Doug Wilshire.
For those who prefer their rock to be, in fact, metal there’s the Nummirock Metal Festival held in Kauhajoki. This year is the 25th anniversary, and features some serious metal and industrial bands led by Fear Factory. Others performing over the 3 days include Sabaton, Sparzanza, Kotiteollisuus, Viikate, Mokoma, Brymir, Profane Omen, Shear, Bob Malmström, and Altars of Destruction (A.O.D).
Kalajoen Juhannus 2012 begins on the 21st in Kalajoki, another 3 day music festival in idyllic surroundings. The bands performing this year are: Günther, Captain Jack, Italo Brothers, Aste, Disco Idiots, Jare & VilleGalle, Daco Junior, Cheek, Juno, Popeda, Fintelligens, Haloo Helsinki, Jan Van Baas, Veljenpojat, Klamydia, Lord Est, Jyrise, Michael Monroe, Finnish Hockey Mafia + Tytöt, Mikael Gabriel, Retropop, Timo Pieni Huijaus, Petri Nygård, Chisu, Kuningasidea, Movetron feat Vaida, Uniikki, and Wasa Connection.
Finally, Sieravuoren Juhannus 2012 also begins on the 21st in Honkilahti, with Chisu and Petri Nygård performing. Friday the 22nd sees Jukka Poika & Sound Explosion Band, Kuningasidea, and Steve ‘n’ Seagulls take to the stage, while on Saturday the crowds will be welcoming Lord Est, Hausmylly, and Remix.