In Norway, midsummer with its long, white nights is the most magical and bewitching time of the year. Not only are these nights magical. According to folklore, midsummer is also the most powerful night of the year. As a result, surprisingly many babies are said to be born in March and April.
These days, the sun sets at around 11pm, then rises again about 4 hours later. As I write this it’s almost 1 am (although, oddly, the blog seems to run on Icelandic time, 2 hours behind). There’s no midnight sun (you have to go up north a bit for that), but it’s not dark out. I don’t even need a lamp.
Tomorrow – 23 June – is the major celebration of midsummer in Norway. Even though it’s called Sankthansaften (meaning St Hans’ Eve, Hans being short for Johannes, i.e. John the Baptist), it’s originally an event predating Christianity. Today, fittingly, it’s a secular event and for most, Sankthansaften is synonymous with a party.
Traditionally, people would eat rømmegrøt (sour-cream porridge) on this evening. That has changed as well. In Oslo, everyone with a boat (and there are many, many) takes to the Oslo fjord, feasting on prawns, white wine and strawberries. Others have barbeques by the shore, lighting bonfires along the beach.
The following day, St Hans Day, was a nationwide public holiday until 1771. Some Norwegian regions still maintain the tradition of having the day off. As does many a wise employer.
Below are just a few of the venues for fun Sankthansaften celebrations in Oslo this year:
– Norsk Folkemuseum (Museum of Cultural History) puts on a traditional Sankthans celebration.
– Henie-Onstad Art Centre offers singing, dancing and a huge bonfire.
– A three-hour evening cruise on an old sailing ship on the fjord, prawns’n’all
– At Frogner Park, the summer theatre premieres with the children’s play, Momo.
Sankthansaften photo by Ernst Vikne on flickr’s Creative Commons