Saturday, 23 June 2012

Midsummer like a bride

Yesterday was Midsummer Eve, one of our most important national holidays. Our Midsummer used to be a date-specific festival the Eve falling on the 24th of June but now it is always on a Friday around the summer solstice, which marks the day with the longest period of daylight. For us living in the southern parts of Finland, this means some 19 hours but in the northernmost areas of Lapland the sun will not set at all for two and a half months between mid-May and late July.

It was an especially sweet, warm and gentle day, just the kind an old saying of ours describes to be like a bride. Indeed, it was most appropriate for Midsummer Eve not only because everyone hopes to have most wonderful weather to celebrate the peak of summer but also because it used to be a popular date for weddings.

However, for several decades now Midsummer has been rather an uncommon date for any formal festivities as most of our countrymen head for their summer cottage or some other kind of special place in the countryside, preferably by a lake or the sea. On a wonderful light summer night like yesterday, many a sauna (of the approximately 3 million we have for the population of 5.4 million) was heated by a lake or pond for a group of friends or for the family, often of two or more generations.

Nevertheless, we don’t have a summer cottage. Living on a rather secluded location close to nature I feel we would have little use for one. When I moved here ten years ago and started to take the 45-minute drive to and from work daily, returning home felt like coming to your summer cottage every night, except that it had all the comforts of a modern home. To complete the picture, we also have a summer-cottage-style outdoor sauna, although currently out of use because it needs some renovation. (Something to work on for next Midsummer perhaps...) The only thing missing is a lake but we can live without that.

So once again we stayed home for the festival, this time without any extra pets to take care of. We had a long walk on the quiet country roads. I collected a large bunch of lupins from the roadside and brought them home to the porch where the delicate smell of Rosa pimpinellifolia ‘Plena’, the shrub commonly called Midsummer rose here, was aptly lingering. Then he took a nap indoors, Jack was snoozing in the shade under an old shrub by the cover of a sewage basin and I lay in the hammock in the garden browsing one of the magazines I hadn’t had the time to pick up earlier.

Later we prepared a very nice dinner, had it with some pinot noir under the evening sun in the garden and when the birches started to cast their shadow on the patio we had the dessert on the balcony. The rest of our evening was spent by the TV watching the UEFA European Championship match between Germany and Greece.

Foreigners sometimes get the impression that Nordic Midsummer is nothing but a wild festival involving a lot of strong drinks and noisy merrymaking but there are also quite a number of those who like it nice and quiet. I don’t think our day differed much from any of our normal summer Sundays. Most of it was repeated today on Midsummer Day, except that the weather was no longer that lovely and most of the ‘action’ took place indoors. Tomorrow will see a third day of this low-key celebration of ours.

Many of our friends already have grandchildren – in fact, two of my oldest friends both had one more this month – so I suppose they can seldom spend their holidays entirely on their own terms. As much as I look forward to being a grandmother one day, it is rather great to be able to enjoy this kind of easy living after at least two decades more or less on the edge of exhaustion.

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