Crazy Finns and Midsummer Festival

Originally I was going to write about this later but since midsummer is closing on this subject was more topical. One thing I have been wondering from time to time, mostly in a horizontal slush rain, is what made my ancestors to settle in this remote corner of the world thousands of years ago. Region that is now considered as Finland, has been in the outskirts of civilization most of the written history. It took some balls  or sisu as we say it, to live in this kind of environment in the past.

My theory is that either the ancestors were introverts with ADHD or they didn´t have all the marbles in the drawer, if you know what I mean, and they ended up to the only free forest at that time. Whatever was the case these people had to endure extreme climate. In the fall the days are dark, even in the south, and this is also a popular time for suicides which Finns are famous for (though there is no such thing as bad PR). This is a problem of the modern day, in the past people were too busy working to survive and they didn´t time for such things.

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Winter is coming. We are a bit like the Starks in Game of Thrones but instead of Westeros winters lasting for years, here we have only about six months of darkness and snow. Spring is short and green, before you know it is the midsummer festival in the end of June, days start to get shorter and the few sunny days of summer fade away into memory.

Well, it´s not all that bad. While running naked (optional but recommended) and red from a steaming 100°c sauna after beating myself with vihta (bunch birch twigs with leaves) to a cold lake under the midnight sun, I think that our ancestors might have been geniuses. Swimming and looking back to the sauna I see green sunlight filtered through vegetation. I can hear roaming thunder in the distance, echoing over the lake while a rainbow touches surface of the lake next to a small island.

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I continue to think about my ancestors while sitting naked (again optional) outside, drinking a cold beer while surrounded by hundreds of mosquitoes, I came to conclusion that they made a good decision coming here. I have been traveling around the world but there is no place as beautiful as Finland in the summer. It´s also brevity of the summer that makes it so precious. All life must live fast and fuck while the sun is shining during these few months. Also one good thing for those ADHD introverts was that in this region there were few neighbors and they lived faraway.

Midnight Sun.

Midnight Sun.

For the end I want to write few words about midsummer. Before Christianization this festival was called Ukon juhla after the Finnish god Ukko and it was celebrated to secure a good harvest and fertility. Later a Christian festival was attached to it which celebrated John the Baptist (Johannes Kastaja in Finnish), hence the modern name juhannus. It was also called mittumaari after the Swedish name midsommar. This festival was one of eight pagan festivals celebrated in the Continental Europe, the pagan calendar Wheel of the Year follows cycles of the Sun and nature.

Wheel of the Year.

Today Finns celebrate it by going back to nature from to a summer cabin near a lake, going to sauna, burning a bonfire, socializing and boozing heavily. This was also the way it was celebrated back when it was called Ukon juhla. Bonfires were burnt to (this was a custom all over Central Europe in the festivals of spring) secure prosperity of people and cattle, also to prevent evil spirits and ghosts to mess with people. It was believed they raised and roamed on the earth at these times.

Midsummer bonfire.

Midsummer bonfire.

Heavy drinking and making a lot of noise is part of past and modern celebration of this festival, this behavior was thought to bring luck and banish evil spirits. According to one believe, more you drank on this day the better harvest would be on that year. On the other hand, this might just be another excuse to get piss drunk.

Mikale Agricola was a clergyman and founder of written Finnish in the 16th century. He wrote this poem when he witnessed how Ukon Juhla was celebrated at that time.

Ja kun kevätkyntö kylvettiin,
silloin Ukon malja juotiin.
Siihen haettiin Ukon vakka,
niin juopui piika että akka.
Sitten paljon häpeällistä siellä tehtiin,
niin kuin sekä kuultiin että nähtiin.

This was also believed to be potent time to do magic, especially love magic. With these spells people wanted to secure success of marriage, see the future spouse or make a certain person to be your spouse. Most of these magic spells were made naked (not optional). It was also good time to peek into future and see how the weather, harvest year and cattle luck would turn out. Also all kind of weird happenings were common in the midsummer night.

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This is an interesting subject and I will write later more about pagan traditions. Now I wish all a drunken midsummer next to bonfire thus securing prosperity and fertility for the coming year.

Links:

http://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juhannus

http://www.kotus.fi/index.phtml?s=2338

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikael_Agricola

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