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19 June 2011

Skt. Hans, the de-paganised midsummer

History lesson: Once upon a time, many many years ago, we were pagans and celebrated midsummer and midwinter - the longest and shortest days of the year respectively. Then came the Christian missionaries and, wise as they were, let us keep our celebrations but adjusted them slightly to - voila! - make them Christian instead.
So instead of celebrating the longest day of the year on 21 June, we now celebrate the birthday (24 June) of St. John the Baptist ("Sankt Hans" in Danish). Similarly, instead of celebrating the shortest day of the year on 21 December, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus. And in line with Nordic tradition, celebrations are held the night before; Sankt Hans eve 23 June and Christmas Eve 24 December.

Skt. Hans today: Not many Danes are aware of the origin of the name Skt. Hans or the reason why we celebrate on 23 June. It is not a religous celebration at all, but simply a midsummer celebration as it always was. You can't blame us, our winters are long and dark, of course we're going to have a party when the day/night ratio is 3/1!
So what do we do? Well, we gather in parks - often some public (local) person will have been invited to give a "bonfire speech" and say something meaningful, then huge bonfires are lit just before sunset (21:55), and we sing the Midsummer ballad. People often come early and have a picnic first.
A fairly recent addition to the tradition (1860s) is witch-puppets that are placed on the bonfire - please don't be horrified, it does not mean we used to burn people alive at midsummer!!! Rather the bonfires were meant to scare off evil forces such as witches and trolls.

Where to celebrate Skt Hans in Copenhagen

21:45 Speech at 'Mindeankeret' (the anchor at the end of Nyhavn by Kongens Nytorv) by writer Allan Mylius Thomsen.
22:00 Bonfire is lit on a platform in the canal.

21:30 Bonfire is lit on a platform in the lake.
22:00 "Sinatra night" at Plænen - free open-air jazz concert with the Tivoli Big Band.
22:30 "Tivoli Illuminations" light show over the lake.

Frederiksberg Have (in front of the palace)
21:20 Speech by Claus Meyer (industrious chef and the man behind Noma).
21:30 Bonfire is lit.

Blågårds Plads
18:00 BBQs are hot, bring your own food to cook.
19:15 Live reggae/dancehall music.
22:00 Bonfire, speech and Midsummer ballad.

Islands Brygge
Music, entertainment for the kids.
21:15 Bonfire is lit.

Christianshavns Vold
18:15 Children's bonfire (before bedtime - clever).
21:00 Bonfire is lit.

Ofelia Beach (by Skuespilhuset)
21:00 Speech by Minister of Culture Per Stig Møller.
21:15 Bonfire is lit.
21:20 Midsummer ballad, lead by opera singer.
You can enjoy a special Skt. Hans menu at the restaurant SALT which has a view of Ofelia Beach - book here.

Søerne (the lakes)
Peblingesøen in front of Kaffesalonen, by the wooden platform.
18:00 Funk and BBQ.
21:45 Bonfire speech.
22:00 Bonfire is lit.
Music continues until 23:30.

The Cafe Pavillion inside the park.
18:00 BBQ
20:00-23:00 Music
22:00 Bonfire is lit.

Amager Strandpark
No official program up at this time, but there are bonfires at the beach every year.

Weather forecast: Danish summer weather is infamously changeable. Stay up to date on the websites of the Danish Meteorological Institute and news channel TV2's weather service (they don't always agree, so check both).

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