In the Nordics we are used to long, cold winters in the dark. But come summertime it is a whole different world and people – the days and nights are equallly bright and summer traditions and foods take over our lives. But one celebration is above all others – midsummer. We leave the cities and spend three days in nature, celebrating summer and strangely ditching our clothes in the process.. Let’s just blame the sauna.
Midsummer festivities are about being with family and friends, usually at someone’s summer house either by a lake or the sea. Forget cell phones, emails and the stresses of everyday – this celebration is about being together and celebrating summer! Food and drink are pivotal; new potatoes with dill, chives, sour cream and herring; cured salmon; barbequed meats and sausages and heaps of fresh, seasonal berries. With the food we have snaps, traditionally Akvavit, and sing songs. After dinner we alight a large bonfire by the water which burns throughout the lightest night of the year.
One of the focal points of the midsummer celebrations is without a doubt the sauna. The sauna has a very special place in our hearts and is part of everyday life as well as celebrations (fun fact: there are about 3 million saunas in Finland and 5 million inhabitants). On midsummer the sauna is heated all day, although it is common to bathe all throughout the night as it is so light and nothing quite beats a night time swim! The sauna is thought to be healing and detoxifying, as you sweat out toxins and bad energy with each throw of water on the hot stones. The temperature is usually between 80-120 Celsius depending on preferences so you are sure to feel the heat! We tie together soft birch branches and gently hit ourselves all over to improve circulation and detoxify the skin, and the scent released by the leaves fills the warm space with a fresh, green summer fragrance. Once the birch leaves are soft from the heat and soft hitting, we press the leaves against the face and skin to let the moisture and leafy goodness sink into the skin. From the sauna we run into the water (most commonly in our birthday suit, because how else will you be one with nature) for a dip to cool off before heading back into the sauna. The switch in temperature is extremely refreshing and brings a healthy flush to your cheeks! There really is no feeling like it.
The sauna is also excellent for various masks, as the pores are open from the steam and the heat helps masks penetrate the hair. Peet masks are very common and help draw out skin impurities, soothe aching joints and muscles and leave the skin very soft. I have also used olive oil and coconut oil in my hair, which are both natural and moisturizing! You can also pour beer in your hair to add intense shine and thickness to your locks, just rinse well to get the scent out.
Midsummer is a celebration very close to nature and has traditions that have been passed down through the generations,many of them relating to love and finding a partner. A common one is to collect seven (nine according to some) different flowers and placing them under your pillow, and you will see your future partner in your dreams! It’s also said that the smoke from the bonfire will blow in the direction of the person who will get married next. You can also look into the reflection of a well or lake on midsummer night and you will see your future partner in the reflection – or a friend scaring the living daylights out of you.
There are so, so many traditions that go with midsummer, a celebration close to nature but with an almost magical feel. This year I will not be near a sauna or the sea, but I will celebrate midsummer with my fellow Nordic expats and we will bring some midsummer magic to London!
© pebble&co 2017