In Finland, Midsummers Day is celebrated each year at the lightest point of the year. It is the biggest summer celebration in Finland. The name Juhannus, as Midsummer celebrations are called in Finnish, originates from St John the Baptist ("Juhannus" in Finnish), whose birthday is celebrated at Midsummer. Midsummer is also Finnish Flag Day. Flags are raised at 6pm on Midsummer Eve and lowered at 9pm in the evening on Midsummers Day.
Many Midsummer traditions are still followed today, including building the kokko, a huge bonfire beside the water. All over Finland, close to midnight on Midsummer Eve, the bonfires are ceremoniously lit. In Finland, bonfires were first made in the eastern parts of the country and from there the tradition rapidly spread throughout Finland. In the past, the population of each village would gather around the blazing bonfire, and strict rules were applied as to how and when the fire was to be lit. The oldest man in the village usually received the great honour of lighting the fire.
During the Midsummer celebrations, many open-air dance festivals are arranged and most of the cities have big bonfires for people to gather around. Many Finns prefer to celebrate Midsummer at their summer houses in the countryside, joined by friends and relatives. Saunas are heated, fresh birch twig whisks are prepared, traditional folk songs are sung, sausages are sizzled and drinks aplenty are enjoyed.
In neighbouring Sweden, the bonfires are replaced with maypoles decorated with foliage and flowers. Dances and folk singing take place around the maypole and in many parts of the country people take pride in dressing up in national costume. Family and friends gather to eat pickled herring, the first fresh potatoes of the season dressed with sour cream and crispbread, accompanied by vodka and beer, and followed by fresh strawberries for dessert.
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