Sankt Hans aften; Summer Solstice

Kathryn Simpson - DIS, Copenhagen, Denmark

KathrynIn Denmark during the summer time the sun typically doesn't set until around 10:30 at night and rises as early as 4:30 in the morning. There had been plenty of times when I'd be in my room, procrastinating doing my homework, not realizing how late it was although the sun was still up. One could imagine how difficult it was to adjust to sleeping at night when the majority of the time it was light outside. However, in Denmark, these long days and short nights are celebrated.

On June 23rd every year the Danes celebrate the holiday Sankt Hans aften or St. John's Eve. This is the day of summer solstice; the day of the year with the longest period of daylight. The history of this holiday comes from when the Vikings came and visited healing water wells while making large bonfires to ward off evil spirits. Today, Danes celebrate around bonfires near bodies of water, such as beaches or on the shores of a lake. Picnics and family gatherings are also typical. This holiday is sometimes referred to as witch burning day, in remembrance of the witch burnings by the church. It is also traditional to place a witch made of straw in the fire.

I quickly learned just how popular this holiday is in Denmark. Several Danes had asked me if I would be going down to the beach to celebrate earlier on in the day. At first I had no idea what this holiday was but as the day progressed I slowly learned. After asking around and doing some research of my own I found that many of my friends in Copenhagen were planning on going down to Amagerstrand Park, a popular beach not to far from the Kollegium I was staying at. The beach is located on the waters of Øresund, in between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. In the summer time this beach is very popular where people lay out, go swimming, have picnics, and skateboard. There are also several ice cream stands located along the beach for those especially hot days. A long bridge extends from the beach to an island where Danes also enjoy hanging out.

KathrynThat evening, a few friends and I decided we would head down to Amagerstrand beach and check out the festivities. The ride was only about 20 minutes from the center of downtown Copenhagen. The metro was packed as crowds of people filed in to head down to the beach. Along the beach there were dozens of bonfires and several DJs set up blasting techno music. We all gathered around the bonfires dancing to the music and watching the sunset. It wasn't until around midnight when it was finally dark in Copenhagen. It was interesting to see how important and celebrated this day is to the Danish when, in the united state, it is rarely even mentioned. Perhaps this year I can share this tradition with my friends here in the United States and celebrate Sankt Hans aften again, the Danish way.