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St. John's Eve - 23 June

The evening before Midsummer Day, which is the birthday of John the Baptist, has become one of the popular red letter days in the calendar.

Danish Traditions

The Danes often meet with family and friends to have dinner together. If the weather is good, they then proceed to a local bonfire venue. Here the bonfire with the witch on top is lit around 10 pm. Beforehand, a bonfire speech is often made, at large events normally by a well-known person. After the speech, the attendees sing Holger Drachmann’s ‘Midsommervise’ (Midsummer Song) (1885), which is the epitome of the light northern summer night and a National-Romantic idyllic view of the peasant culture.

Even though the summer solstice is on 21 June, St John’s Eve is regarded as the actual Midsummer Eve and therefore the shortest night of the entire year. According to popular belief, it was therefore charged with a special power where evil forces were also at work. People believed that the witches flew past on their broomsticks on their way to the Brocken. To keep the evil forces away, the bonfires were usually lit on high ground. Placing a witch – made of old clothes stuffed with hay – on the bonfire is a tradition which did not become common until the 20th century.

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