Juhannus is the Finnish word for Midsummer; the word comes from Johannes, the Finnish version of John, as in John the Baptist. In the long-gone past pagan days of dim memory — er, in Finland that’s a bit over 800 years ago — the celebration was called Ukon juhla, or the Celebration of Ukko, who was the old Finnish high god. (From which derive words like “ukkonen”, thunder, and “ukko”, old codger.)
The event’s name has changed, and even the origin and meaning of this current name are lost to all but radio jockeys looking for a tidbit to liven up their night show; but the formalities stay the same — a big bonfire, lots and lots of booze, and more babies born nine months later than the people concerned expect right now. (Also nettle-burns in embarrassing places.)
Also grilling, sauna-bathing, seclusion in remove spots near lakeshores to do all these midsummer revels — and, no matter how many times this happens, very drunken people who think they’re agile enough to stand up in a rowboat in the middle of a lake and pee — and then they become a statistic.
The actual day is the Saturday that falls on or between June 20th and June 26th, but things start falling apart already on the Friday; anyhow it’s near the summer solstice, which means it’s the center of the nightless night; the sun dances close to the edge of the earth, and then soars back up, allowing no darkness, giving light to the lake-floundering drunks and the love-fumbling youths.
So if you’re in Finland and wonder where everybody’s gone: they’re off in the countryside, burning things, cavorting around naked, and getting smashed, either by the way of drink, or of drink and automobile.
And now I’ll go and join the revelry, too. If you see some slow, teetering, swaying big thing, it might be me.