Sankt Hans Day in Copenhagen

In the US, people call it Solstice parade, the day when the sun shines the longest hours in a year across the northern hemisphere. This day, the 23rd of June, also marks the beginning of the sun to shine shorter and shorter hours on each following days, until it returns to get longer and longer again, started in the 23rd of December.

In Denmark, people call it Sankt Hans day or Sankthansaften (Sankt Hans’ night). It is especially important in the cultures of Scandinavia, Finland and the Baltics where it is the most celebrated holiday apart from Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

In Denmark, the solstice celebration was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day where the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people.


It has been celebrated since the times of the Vikings by visiting healing water wells and making a large bonfire to ward away evil spirits. Today the water well tradition is gone. Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although bonfires are built in many other places where beaches may not be close by (i.e. on the shores of lakes and other waterways, parks, etc.).

In the 1920s a tradition of putting a witch made of straw and cloth (probably made by the elder women of the family) on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church’s witch burnings from 1540 to 1693. This burning is believed to send the “witch” away to Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain in the Harz region

of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day. Some Danes regard the relatively new symbolic witch burning as inappropriate.

In 1885 Holger Drachmann wrote a midsommervise (Midsummer hymn) called “Vi elsker vort land…” (“We Love Our Country”) with a melody composed by P.E. Lange-Müller that is sung at every bonfire on this evening.

Hvad Lavede Jeg i Sankt Hans Dag?

Behind my apartment in Bellahøj, lies a roman amphitheater park where Socialdemokraterne (the members of the current ruling party in Denmark and youth party of which I am a member of, Social Demokrat) held the bonfire festival. Many people around this area turned up, sat, had chat to each other while enjoying beers and cakes they could buy from the mobile canteen that the party organizer had prepared.

Socialdemokraterne also prepared live band, of course Danish band.

I myself surprised wh

en I saw the puppet on the top of bonfire was set in fire. There was a thrill in my gut, bringing me back to the roman novel of Salem and the witch trial. I agreed with some danes; I don’t think this burning symbolization should be continued and be taught to the younger generation. It simply doesn’t make sense to celebrate such tragedy.

Anyway, few minutes before the

fire was set, Frank Jensen, the mayor of copenhagen city threw a speech, which carried pleasant news such as the fact that copenhagen is awarded as the most liveable city by Monocle magazine ( In addition, as local election day approaches, he also slipped some political messages regarding issues of immigration and equality: “København er byen ti alle. Til danskere, homoseksuel, muslim, muslim-homoseksuel, …” (Copenhagen is the city for everyone. For the danes, homosexual, the muslims, muslim-homosex….”

As a person who grew up in a dominantly muslim country myself, his message may contain 2 different meanings:

1. It’s ironic, as islam is very strict and can level up to death penalty (stoning and such) when it comes to its followers who are homosex. So in other words, it is almost impossible being muslim and homosex at the same time. It’s a choice of

the right to human principle or die (or at very modest, socially punishable and being outcasted by the muslim community).

2. His message may send green light that thing can always be possible. Churches in Scandinavia are very open that their priests ble

ss same-sex marriages. If the churches here have come to realistic explanation to the facts among human being there exist varies of sexual orientation, perhaps islam and the imams can have the same chances, somehow, in the future (though i can imagine it would be bloody).

Last but not least I managed to take picture with Frank Jensen 🙂

We closed the Sankt hans day by singing together the song that I usually sing during my monday meeting with the youth party in Copenhagen. The song is titled “Når jeg ser et rødt flag smælde” written by Oskar Hansen. This rather socialist song, which depicts the spirit among working class, can be listened here on YouTube.


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