St. Hans in Norway is usually associated with boats, beaches and bonfires. It is the celebration of midsummer in Norway. Originally a pagen summer festival to celebrate the summer solstice. Later when Norway was christened to a Christian land the festival we renamed St. Hansaften. The celebration of St. John the Baptist (Johannas in Norwegian). However today as before Midsummers eve is celebrated first and foremost as a popular party day and not a Christian feast. The Swedish celebration of (midtsommmar aften) “mid summer” is a the Swedish variation of the same pagan celebration.
Decorating with birch leaves this day was an old practice as well as dancing around the bonfire in the town square, or out in the open air, and especially beaches. It was believed that the fire had purification and protective power on a night filled with superstition. It was believed that the fire protected against evil forces, and often a witch made of sticks and old clothes, was burned on the top of the fire as it still is in Denmark.
Faith in the power of fires special effect is probably transferred from the sun being at its highest point around this time. The following day the ancient ritual was to roll a burning wheel, as a symbol of the sun down the slopes in honor of the sun wheel in the sky. (Just to be clear they don’t do this anymore!)
Midsummer night had a special power, such as Christmas eve, New Year’s Night and All saints day. If one had the right capabilities, on this night one could read the future of many things. Famous herbs were collected and cut with a silver knife. If a young girl picked seven or nine herbs (magic number!) and put them under her pillow on this night it was believed she would dream of their true love. Branches of leaves were put in the ground at the corners of the fields to protect the earth and it was believed that the longer the branch, the better the grain would grow.
The water also had a special power this night, steam would help against eye diseases. Holy water was believed to be more effective around St. Johns then at any other time. The weather that day would predict the weather for the rest of the summer.
Today the bon fires, boat trips, and beach rituals continue as well as many outdoor parties and BBQ’s. Since I have to work this evening I took my celebration this afternoon. I burned myself instead!!! Happy St. Hans!