Translation musings: Midsummer around the world

Jun 28, 2016 | Miscellaneous, World events

June is coming to an end soon, which means that Midsummer is over! I came back from Finland on Friday, Midsummer’s Eve, which is a public holiday there. It is one of my favourite public holidays (which covers two days) and I can guarantee I’m not the only Finn who says so. Let’s take a look at some traditions people have to celebrate the summer solstice.



The key element in Finland is the Midnight Sun which means that the sun will not go down for 24 hours (this phenomenon can be seen in the northern parts of Finland for almost the whole summer, just so you know!). Finns tend to travel away from the city to their summer cottages with their families and friends; the cities are amazingly quiet but the motorways… not so. Midsummer in Finland is all about barbecuing, bathing in the sauna, swimming in the lake, enjoying the company of your loved ones and performing love spells (collecting seven flowers and putting them under your pillow will result in catching a glimpse of your future husband or wife. Unfortunately this has never worked for me). The highlight of the night is definitely lighting “kokko” – a traditional midsummer bonfire!


Icelandic folklore says that cows speak in human tongue, seals become human and elves will try to seduce you with delicious food and gifts on Midsummer Night. If you manage to resist the temptation you will be rewarded with wealth, happiness and blessings. However, if you give in to the temptation there are serious consequences: they may take you with them to their secret hiding place and never let you go! Whoa, better stay strong Icelanders! They have several midsummer events around the country filled with music, food and, of course, light. This all sounds extremely exciting  – I might just book my tickets for next year!


Midsummer in Spain is called St John’s Night (Nit de Sant Joan) and it marks the beginning of the summer. Spaniards throw one of the biggest and noisiest midsummer parties: imagine fireworks, music, bonfires, firecrackers, coca de sant joan (St John’s cake) and masses of people on the beach. Yes, please! You can take part in some rituals, for example, you can write down your wish and then throw the note into the Sant Joan bonfire after which you should jump into the air three times. Alternatively, you could swim your sins away in the sea or lake at midnight. Spain sure knows how to celebrate midsummer!

If celebrating midsummer is not your cup of tea, you could travel to Venezuela to celebrate rain instead. Los Tambores de Barlovento takes place in March when the rainy season begins.


Photo credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert