Get Drunk and Take Your Clothes Off for Finnish Midsummer

Get Drunk and Take Your Clothes Off for Finnish Midsummer

Beer, potatoes, and herring in the land of the midnight sun.
July 3, 2017, 6:00pm

"This summer sucks", says my 5-year-old son while eating an ice cream outside, tucked in a warm blanket. It's Midsummer in Finland and the thermometer is struggling to stay above 10°C (50°F). It starts to rain and I couldn't agree more with my son.

As I'm writing this I realize how silly it is to start with a weather report, but that's Finland for you. People take the weather on Midsummer (also called Juhannus) very seriously. There is usually some hermit that lives in the woods who predicts the weather three months in advance from the way frogs fuck. Perhaps Finns' fixation with weather is because traditionally, Midsummer was celebrated on the longest day of the year in honor of the weather god Ukko, in the hopes of good harvest and fertility.

People take the weather on Midsummer very seriously. There is usually some hermit that lives in the woods who predicts the weather three months in advance from the way frogs fuck.

But Ukko's not the only god getting his due. Young women cast love spells by rolling naked in a wheat field, collecting flowers and putting them under a pillow or walking around the field three times at midnight with a four-leafed clover next to their bosom. There are dozens of ancient spells that young women do in hopes of foreseeing the love of their life or just generally trying to ensure success in the bedroom department. Many of these spells are done in the nude.

All photos by the author.

In the land of the midnight sun, people usually spend Midsummer in the countryside. Cities turn into ghost towns. There are more or less 187,888 lakes in Finland and over 770 miles of coastline, so many of the celebrations take place near a body of water. Combine that with people drinking—like a lot—and it's not always a good combo. Let's just say accidents do happen.

Even the excessive alcohol consumption on Midsummer is, according to some, also tied with past traditions. Back in the day, loud behavior on Midsummer would also help to scare evil spirits away, and the amount of alcohol consumed would somehow go hand-in-hand with the size of the upcoming crop. Brilliant excuse.

Beer flows on Midsummer like there's no tomorrow. Sahti, an ancient Finnish beer, is a popular choice. "This is a very busy time for us", says Pekka Kääriäinen, the owner and brewer at Lammin Sahti. This particular beer doesn't keep well, so it's usually brewed to order for weddings and other celebrations. Sahti's robust flavor profile is both feared and loved across Finland. There is no doubt that Sahti is a Finnish national treasure—and it should be obligatory for every Finn to taste it at least once, especially on Midsummer Eve.

If you don't have potatoes? Go home; you've officially failed Juhannus.

However, there seems to be a trend towards a "less is more" approach on Midsummer. Instead of pounding cheap booze, people are starting to abandon quantity and go for quality. Things are starting to circulate more around food than drink, and food is almost as abundant as drinks used to be.

With no shortage of lakes and the sea, it is only natural that Finns love their fish. But on Midsummer, everything starts with steaming hot new potatoes and a big chunk of melting butter. If you don't have potatoes? Go home; you've officially failed Juhannus.

The potatoes are served with (or followed seamlessly by) a wide variety of fish, almost always including cold-smoked salmon and gravlax. If you don't like fish, you're going to have a rough night. My father-in-law likes to kick things off with cured herring seasoned with plenty of onion and a touch of gin, to cure any lingering hangover you might have. Fried whitefish comes next. Then, we cover a salmon fillet with lemons and grill it on an open fire. After that, we keep it chill with just a couple of t-bone steaks grilled over charcoal.

The next day, actual Midsummer, my father serves soused herring with sour cream, chives, dill and onion, plus my mom's new potatoes. Then there's cured herring in peppery vinegar, creamy mustard sauce and tomato sauce, followed by a whole fillet of smoked salmon. (Pike perch and rainbow trout are also not uncommon.) during a Midsummer feast. I eat my way through all that with a John Wick-like determination. Mmm…Baba Yaga!

READ MORE: How to Celebrate Spring Like the Finns

There are many ways to spend the white night of Juhannus. Thousands of Finns spend it in various music festivals, boning in tents. This year approximately 250,000 Finns decided to spend Midsummer watching a live video stream of a grocery store's cashier belt. What?! If that's not a sign of a pending apocalypse I don't know what is. Nonetheless, Finns embrace this holiday like no other. From here, the nights grow longer and Finland starts its inevitable march towards darkness, and all we'll have to cling to was the memory of this Midsummer.