Midsummer Night is an event that goes by virtually unnoticed in Belgium. This is certainly not the case in Denmark, where Sankt Hans Aften as it is called, is one of the major celebrations of the year. By the way, Sankt Hans Aften means St John’s Eve and is celebrated on 23 June. This tradition dates from the time of the Vikings and is still hugely popular in Denmark, bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds. But how exactly do the Danes celebrate this?
The central element of Sankt Hans Aften is the bonfire. Some people have one in their own backyard, but most people gather at a beach. The time that this bonfire is lit depends from one location to another and is usually announced in the local press.
TAKEAWAY: According to Viking legends, the bonfire is supposed to chase away evil spirits. Moreover, on top of the bonfire, you will often see a witch. This is a reference to the infamous witch burnings from the 16th and 17th century. According to another legend, the bonfire will send the witch to the Brocken mountain, which is situated in the Harz region in Germany. The addition of the witch to the bonfire is quite recent though – the beginning of the 20th century – and not every Dane is a fan of this.
My Danish fiancé and I couldn’t make it to Denmark this year to celebrate Sankt Hans Aften, but no worries. Every Dane living in Brussels will flock to the Danish church on 23rd June, which is located in the municipality of Elsene. And there the festivities follow the same procedure as in Denmark. Usually, they start around 6 pm, with the lighting of the bonfire at 8 pm.
And just like in Denmark, there is a picnic. A nice cold beer is essential – in Denmark, this is often consumed with a snaps (generally, aquavit), a very strong alcoholic drink – although wine and champagne are popular as well. And, of course, there is food: sausages! Grilled sausages are very popular, especially in the summer season, when you will see stands all over Denmark selling them. At the Danish church, they come in two varieties. The first one – and also the cheapest – is the humble hotdog. This can be served with ketchup and/or mustard, fried onions and pickled gherkins. The second variety is called “pølse”; compared with the hotdog, this sausage thicker and shorter and contains meat of better quality.
And finally, the moment has come… At 8 pm the most important part of the day starts. First, there are speeches and then the bonfire is -finally!- lit. During the bonfire, all Danes will sing the Midsummer hymn, which is called Vi Elsker Vort Land (We Love Our Country). Actually, you can hear this song on the radio, during most of the day. There is also a modern version of this song, which is, however, less loved.