Sankt Hans Aften: Denmark’s midsummer celebration

Denmark Blazes into Summer Image: Shutterstock/ Michele Ursi

Sankt Hans Aften, a vibrant Danish celebration held on the evening of June 23, marks the summer solstice. While it coincides with the feast of Saint John the Baptist (Sankt Hans), the celebration’s roots stretch back to Viking times.

Much like the Spanish San Juan festivities, bonfires are a central element. In Denmark, these bonfires serve as a symbol for the warding off of evil spirits, echoing a practice that stretches back centuries. People gather around these crackling flames, creating a warm and communal atmosphere.

The Rise of the Straw Witches: A Quirky Tradition

While San Juan often features bonfires for purification and good luck, a uniquely Danish twist comes with the tradition of straw witches. These effigies, a quirky addition that emerged in the 1920s, commemorate past witch burnings. Legend has it that when the witch burns, she takes flight to a mythical gathering of witches in Germany.

The tradition of straw witches has a complex meaning. It might be seen as a way to reclaim the narrative. Witch hunts were a dark period in European history, and the burning of straw witches could be seen as a way to reclaim the narrative. By creating a light-hearted effigy and burning it, some believe it might be a way to acknowledge the past without glorifying it.

Singing with National Pride: ‘Vi Elsker Vort Land’

Following speeches, a sense of national pride fills the air as the Danish crowd joins in the song. ‘Vi Elsker Vort Land’ (We Love Our Country) by Holger Drachmann has been the patriotic anthem associated with Sankt Hans since 1885, adding a layer of cultural significance to the festivities.

Where to Celebrate Sankt Hans Aften in Copenhagen

If you find yourself in Copenhagen during Sankt Hans Aften, numerous locations offer free celebrations. Popular spots include Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn, Ofelia Plads, and Enghaveparken. So, immerse yourself in the warmth of the bonfires, the spirit of community, and the unique traditions that make Sankt Hans Aften a special Danish experience.

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!