In a search of the mystical fern flower… and other Midsummer charms…

The annual festival celebrating the summer solstice known as Joninės in Lithuania, Ligo in Latvia, Jaanipäev in Estonia, Juhannus in Finland, Midsommar in Sweden and Sankt Hans Aften in Norway is one of the oldest Scandinavian and Baltic celebrations taking place sometime between June 19 and June 25 depending on which of the countries. It is a national holiday giving Nordic people an opportunity to take a break in the countryside to enjoy both the longest day and the shortest night. Traditionally, Midsummer is a mixture of Christian traditions associated with John the Baptist and pagan rituals related to fertility, rebirth, regeneration and growth. The celebrations take place around the Bonfires of Saint John and the maypole decorated with leaves and flowers, which is erected in a local park or an open space or by the lake where the people sing songs, dance until sunset, share folk tales and enjoy this enchanting night while believing that magical events might occur on the shortest night of the year such as water turning into wine, ferns into flowers and hidden treasures can be found or the one could heal…

Here are some old traditions that make up Scandinavian and Baltic Midsummer:

The mystical fern flower
According to the myth, the fern flower blooms for a very short time on the eve of the summer solstice. The flower brings fortune, luck and wealth or even visionary powers to the person who finds it. However, the flower is closely guarded by dark spirits who conquer the forests during the night of Midsummer so that only the bravest people will go deep into the forests every year, looking for fern blossoms.

Plants power and future telling crowns and wreaths
According to traditions during the period of the Summer solstice, herbs and plants are thought to have magical powers. However, when picked after the Feast Day of St. John, the powers of the herbs fade, so people try to pick all medicinal herbs before or during the feast. It is the perfect time to pick a special bouquet of flowers, medicinal herbs, and plants that will protect oneself from evil forces all year long. The girls would wear crowns which consist of at least seven or nine different flowers. In the meantime, boys make themselves wreaths from oak branches, which represent power and maturity. When the night comes, single people throw their crowns and wreaths into the river. If any wreath floats beside a flower crown, it means that those two people will marry each other by the end of the year. If you want to know how many years you have left until you will marry, throw your wreath into an apple tree and count how many times the wreath falls to the ground.

According to Swedish traditions, one should also pick seven or nine different kinds of flowers from seven different fields. Midsummer Eve’s night is considered magical and girls are said to dream of their future husband during their sleep if they put the flowers underneath their pillow). By doing this it was believed that one would dream about one’s future husband or wife or, alternatively, a woman might also bend over a well, while naked, in hopes of seeing her future husband’s reflection in the water.
Lithuanians also believe that if it rains on Jonines, the upcoming harvest will be a success and the winter will be cold and snowy. If the weather is cloudy on Jonines, people say that Christmas will be rainy and windy, but if the sky is clear, Christmas will be frosty.
Finnish people believe that loud behaviour will bring good luck. It is thought that the amount one drank would correlate to the size of the crop to be harvested.
According to Latvian tradition, the shortest night of the year must be spent staying awake. If you do go to sleep before sunrise, it is believed that you will sleep throughout the summer. At dawn, one should walk through the morning dew – this brings money. And those who wash their face in the dew are also guaranteed beauty.
Estonians light the bonfire to frighten away mischievous spirits who avoid the fire at all costs, thus ensuring a good harvest. So, the bigger the fire, the further the mischievous spirits stay away.
Norwegians cross their fingers for good weather and brace for good times during the longest day of sunshine as it said if you find yourself in rain, there shall be no burning possible and the old folklore goes without saying: “The fewer hazelnuts will grow”.

Dance like a frog
The Little Frogs or, as it is called in Swedish, “Små grodorna”, is a traditional Swedish dance and song performed at Midsummer where the participants dance around a maypole. The dance involves movements that illustrate body parts that frogs lack, namely “ears” (öron) and “tails” (svansar). Imagine the adults who happily jump around like frogs? Memorable!

Lighting and Jumping over the bonfire
A midsummer celebration is unimaginable without a bonfire. It is lit when the sun sets and burns throughout the night until the sunrise. One of the best-known midsummer rituals is jumping over the bonfire. This is seen as a way of guaranteeing prosperity and avoiding bad luck and ridding people of their burdens, fighting off illness, and keeping oneself healthy and fit. Couples jump holding hands so that the magical force of the flames binds them together.

Eat, drink and be happy
No Midsummer celebration is complete without lots of food and drinks. In Finland and Norway, they love to cook sausages as well as steaks along with the season’s vegetables and spring potatoes. Strawberries are a must-have for dessert. In Sweden, A typical Midsummer menu features different kinds of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes served with fresh dill, sour cream and chives. There are many foods that Baltic people love eating on the shortest night of the year but there are few things that must be on every table: a fresh sour-milk cheese that is made from raw milk, curd, and lots of caraway seeds, homemade rye bread, a fermented bread drink made from rye bread and flavoured with fruits such as strawberries or raisins or alternatively with herbs such as mint. This dish is typically served with local freshly brewed beer.