Sankt Hans Aften

Given its northern latitude, Scandinavia enjoys long summer days. While not as far north as its sister cities Stockholm and Oslo, the sun doesn’t set until 10:00P.M. here in Copenhagen and it doesn’t get dark until close to midnight.

Given the limited sunlight during the winter months, celebration of the summer solstice has become an important part of Scandinavian culture, eclipsed only by Christmas and Easter. Despite June 21st being the official summer solstice, celebrations aren’t held unil June 23rd  in Denmark and Norway and between June 19th and 26th in Sweden (where it is an even bigger event).

Officially known as Sankt Hans Aften in Denmark, Danish tradition is to light a massive bonfire on the shores of (or better yet, in the middle of) harbours, lakes or waterways. Since the 1920s, the tradition has evolved to include the placement of a witch made of straw and cloth on top of the bonfire to commemorate the “witches” burned by the church during the 16th and 17th century. Tradition holds that the witch is transported to Bloksbjerg, a mountain in Germany where a meeting of witches was held on this day. At
bigger events, the lighting of the fire is preceded by live music and a speech by a well-known Danish personality before culminating in the singing of the Midsummer Hymn called “We Love Our Country” (“Vi elsker vort land”).

I went with some friends to the event in Fredericksberg Have (Park) which is host to one of the biggest celebrations in the city (and by extension the country). Fredericksberg Have is a beautiful venue for the event with the baroque Fredericksberg Palace (1699-1735) perched atop a lawn sloping down to the canal where the bonfire is held. The evening was perfect for a picnic with seasonable temperatures and the cloud cover largely bypassing the city.

Preparing for a bonfire along "The Lakes"

Fredericksberg Palace, home of the Danish Officers Academy

The view from Fredericksberg Palace down to the canal

The witch perched above the bonfire

Lighting the bonfire

Up in flames...


About Canadianindenmark

A Canadian expat working in the biotechnology industry in Copenhagen, Denmark
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