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Juhannus saves

On Juhannus eve there was an apocalyptic feel to Helsinki. The streets were empty, shops were closing and a lot of foreigners were walking the streets with a “What happened?” expression. I went to the supermarket late in the day and staff were keener than usual evacuate as customers hoarded groceries for the three-day shutdown. All the while the were lights dimming. A shield began to roll down over the dairy cabinet sending Finns into an apoplexy. If this was the end of the world, many would see it without enough cheese.

Juhannus is the annual midusmmer festival which Finns have moved slightly so it always falls on the third weekend in June. It’s best celebrated by heading to a summer cottage and watching the bonfires that ring the lakes on Juhannus eve. In Helsinki there’s a marriage ceremony and the lucky couple get to ignite the bonfire (which may have been the inspiration for Jim Morrisson’s Come on Baby Light my Fire’). And there may even be a little drinking done. The Saturday is spent recovering though for some this stretches into Sunday.

My friend Paivi has a friend, Raili, who has a summer cottage which is a real insight into the Finnish way of life. Finns love their summer cottage particularly at Midsummer when they abandon the cities to those confused foreigners. I missed the big bonfire celebrations but make it out to the cottage in time for a sauna. My host, Raili, serves a feast of traditional Finnish grub from a welcome drink that’s chockful of in-season strawberries to sausages grilled over the campfire. Cottage life is a return to the beloved wilderness but also to simplicity so our cottage has a ‘buried ‘fridge’, real fired sauna and much lying about watching the birches sway from hammocks. I even gt to make my very own vihta, the bunch of fresh birch twigs that you whack yourself about with for a genuine sauna experience.

Riding on the wave of goodwill, Paivi and I decide to hitch back to Helsinki assuming that there would be loads of Juhannus traffic. It’s been 10 years since I last hitched in Finland and our luck was making me think the world has grown too wary to give rides. Or maybe it’s just my new scruffy beard. One driver even meets my thumb with a thumbs-down. But just as my pessimism peaks we get a ride with a writer. He indicates this to me by showing me his USB key strung around his neck and I agree by showing him mine strapped to my leg – almost. He’s written books about Finnish comics which was something I was thinking of doing a boxed text about. This chance meeting restores my faith not just in hitching and serendipity but also in backing-up regularly to a USB.

Sauna-o-meter: 6 but it was the fired variety which must be followed by a swim in the lake to complete the ritual (or so my hosts tell me).
Finnish false friend: munkki seems like an apish word, but you won’t see it swinging from any trees as it mean donut or sometimes monk.
Good names for future Finnish metal bands: Sata sisu (literally 100 wolves)


  1. Tell me, who is the Tin Tin of Finland? And I think we have a new logo of r our local writers festival. I can see a USB key peeking cheekily from beneath a dusty rose pashmina...

  2. I like cheeky peeker USB but perhaps it could be concealed as a secret society kinda thing. One could reveal one's USB and the other could meet it, then both could go their separate ways without anyone else being the wiser...
    There isn't really a Tin Tin of Finland. There are obviously the Moomins which sort of skip ages because they do that Seussian thing of being on two levels of mishief at the same time. There is a fellow called Tex Willer but he's originally Italian. They also translate Donald Duck here as Aku Ankka and he's something of a national icon.
    My favourite though is Viivi and Wgner about a pig and a woman who are married that's really just for grown ups. I might try to interview the creator in Turku so staye tuned!


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