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Danish Summer Solstice

Last week we experienced the summer solstice; the longest day of the year, the peak of the summer before we all rush headlong into the dark hours again. Well that’s what the email to me from the ex-pat contact at work said whilst announcing I would get 17.34 (exactly) hours of daylight on the 21st. My view out of the apartment window of the sun burning brightly for that length of time was obscured by a grey and rainy sky, pretty much like it has looked every day since arriving in Denmark a month ago.
However not to be disheartened by the weathers clear refusal to join in the summer I joined my first Sankt Hans celebration; the Danish way of celebrating midsummer.
The tradition started way back when the country was all about wooden boats, big beards and horns as a hat accessory. The idea being that up and down the country bonfires are lit to ward away the evil spirits. In the 1920s, the tradition of putting a witch made of straw on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church's witch burnings from 1540 to 1693. Interestingly, this burning sends the "witch" away to Bloksbjerg, the mountain Brocken in Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day. I was beginning to understand why the Danish have some hesitation about their southern neighbours……
One of the main traditions for the evening (other than lots of food and drink) is that about 10pm throughout Denmark, people gather around the bonfires to sing songs together, including the Midsummer hymn “Vi elsker vort land” (We love our country). Coming from the UK when the only time we sing together as a nation tends to be at a football match it was a warming (too near the fire?) experience. It had a definite “hygge” feel about it – a concept to be explored at a later date. More Danish songs followed (lots of mumbling along to the tune) and surprisingly some Beatles although what their connection to Denmark is I’m not sure. Or perhaps that was one of the favourites of the guy with the guitar…
Once the singing was over it was back inside (the rain had returned) to continue celebrating and watch the sun slip away over the horizon. The witches safely banished I could safely turn my attention to the other spirits. Skål!

Joslyn Adcock

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