When Danes are burning witches

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Danish midsummer night celebration, St John's eve with bonfires
Photo by Anna Sebestyén

When you are in Denmark on the 23rd of June and you see huge bonfires, don’t be afraid, they are not pyromaniacs – the Danes are just celebrating St. John’s Eve.

Saint John’s eve’s (or in Danish Sankt Hans Aften) tradition roots deep back in the Danish history. The eve was named after John the Baptist, who according to the belief was born 6 month before Christmas, on the 24th of June. The tradition of celebrating the eve with bonfires dates back to he 1600s and “in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June.”

Even though it is a christian tradition it’s built upon pagan traditions. Midsummer’s Eve is believed to originated in old European heathen traditions when they connected different superstitions and magical beliefs to the longest day (summer solstice) of the year when they lit huge bonfires in order to ward off evil spirits.

Some of the customs remained, but changed their form – Danes usually celebrate St John’s Eve with their families and their friends around a huge bonfire with a witch figure – made of old clothes stuffed with hay – on the top, that is lit around 10 pm. People eat and drink on the event and towards midnight they sing Midsommervisen (Midsummer song) by Danish poet Holger Drachmann (1846-1908) and there might be fireworks at midnight.

 

If you are interested in hearing more about living and working as a medical specialist in Denmark, visit our open doctor positions in Scandinavia  or contact our consultants for more details.

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