Sankt Hans Aften

  • June 23, 2021
  • June 23, 2024
  • 4 sessions
  • June 23, 2021, 12:00 PM 1:00 PM (CDT)
  • June 23, 2022, 12:00 PM 1:00 PM (CDT)
  • June 23, 2023, 12:00 PM 1:00 PM (CDT)
  • June 23, 2024, 12:00 PM 1:00 PM (CDT)

Sankt Hans Aften (Midsummer)

A Nordic tradition, celebrated on the night before the Midsummer's Day

Midsummer's Eve or Sankt Hans Aften is a relic of pagan customs, where the shortest day, the winter solstice, and the longest day, the summer solstice, were celebrated. Originally it was believed that midsummer night was filled with magical forces of nature—both bad and good. All herbs and sources were particularly sacred, and it was a tradition to seek sacred springs or picking healing herbs on this night.

The tradition of burning bonfires came later. Originally they were not associated with Midsummer's Eve celebration, although later some farmers who believed in witches started burning bonfires on this night. A shape that looks like a witch was put in the fire. The purpose of the fire was to scare the witches and evil spirits away, rather than burning them.

Today the Midsummer's Eve is still celebrated with bonfires, dancing, singing and a traditional speech from someone well known in the community. The celebrations are held all around the country, both in cities and small towns.

Some of the most vibrant celebrations take place in Copenhagen, Odense, Aarhus, and Skagen. The capital has bonfires at several places, including Tivoli Gardens, Frederiksberg Gardens, Islands Brygge, and more. Likewise, Aarhus offers quite a few locations to celebrate, such as Aarhus University campus, Godsbanen, or Langenæs Church. In Odense, the festivities take place at Engen in the Fruens Bøge forest. At last, the remote Skagen promises an exceptional celebration. Thousands come to the northern tip of Denmark to enjoy traditional songs at the bonfire that lasts here longer than anywhere else in the country.

Burning the witches in Denmark

The height of Danish summer is celebrated on the evening of June 23 under the name Sankt Hans (Saint Hans), who is known in English as John the Baptist. The festival of Sankt Hans and the celebration of the summer solstice have pagan roots and date back to the days before Christianity came to Denmark. 

Sankt Hans is generally celebrated with a dinner at home with family and friends followed by a stroll to a community bonfire, often by the beach or on the shore of one of Denmark's many lakes.

Tradition calls for an effigy of a witch to be placed on top of the bonfire, and as it burns the community sings the song "Midsommervisen", written by the Danish poet Holger Drachmann in 1885. The effigy of the witch symbolises all the misery that Denmark as a nation wants to avoid, and the song celebrates the hope that peace will prevail.


Midsommervisen “Vi elsker vort land”  
(Youtube)

De tre første vers, som normalt synges ved bålfester
Text: Holger Drachmann, 1885
Melodi P. E. Lange-Müller, 1885 

Vi elsker vor land,
når den signede jul
tænder stjernen i træet med glans i hvert øje.
Når om våren hver fugl,
over mark, under strand,
lader stemmen til hilsende triller sig bøje:
Vi synger din lov over vej, over gade,
vi kranser dit navn, når vor høst er i lade,
men den skønneste krans,
bli'r dog din Sankte Hans!
Den er bunden af sommerens hjerter,
så varme så glade. 

Vi elsker vort land,
men ved midsommer mest,
når hver sky over marken velsignelsen sender,
når af blomster er flest,
og når kvæget i spand
giver rigeligst gave til flittige hænder;
når ikke vi pløjer og harver og tromler,
når koen sin middag i kløveren gumler,
da går ungdom til dans
på dit bud Sankte Hans
ret som føllet og lammet, der frit
over engen sig tumler. 

Vi elsker vort land,
og med sværdet i hånd
skal hver udenvælts fjende beredte os kende,
men mod ufredens ånd
under mark over strand,
vil vi bålet på fædrenes gravhøje tænde
hver by har sin heks,
og hver sogn sine trolde.
Dem vil vi fra livet med glædesblus holde
vi vil fred her til lands
Sankte Hans, Sankte Hans!
Den kan vindes, hvor hjerterne
aldrig bli'r tvivlende kolde
.

English Translation...

Vi Elsker Vort Land/"We Love Our Country"

We love our country
when the blessed Christmas
light up the star in the tree with a twinkle in each eye
When in spring each bird
over the field, down by the beach
lets its voice give into greeting trills:
We sing your law across the road, across the street,
we wreath your name, when our harvest is in the barn,
but the most beautiful wreath
becomes yours, Saint Hans
It is bound by the the hearts of the summer so warm, so happy
but the most beautiful wreath
becomes yours, Saint Hans
It is bound by the hearts of the summer so warm, so happy

We love our country
but mostly around midsummer
when every cloud sends the blessing across the field
When most flowers are here
and when the cattle drag the plough
gives plenty of gifts to laborious hands;
when we don't plough and harrow and roll,
when the cow munch its dinner of clover:
At that time youth will start to dance
at your command Saint Hans!
Straight as the foal and the lamb which freely romp across the meadow
At that time youth will start to dance
at your command Saint Hans!
Straight as the foal and the lamb which freely romp across the meadow

We love our country
and with the sword in our hands
every foreign enemy shall prepared know us
But against the spirit of strife
over the field, down by the beach
we will light the bonfire on the forefathers' burial mounds:
Every town has its witch, and every parish its trolls,
we will keep those from our lives with fires of happiness
We want peace in this country,
saint Hans, saint Hans!
It can be won where the hearts never become doubting cold
We want peace in this country,
saint Hans, saint Hans!
It can be won where the hearts never become doubting cold

We love our country
and we greet that king
who has tried and chosen the right princess:
In his fairy tale castle
every woman, every man can
find an example of love for life!
Let the times grow old, let the colors fade,
we will however draw a memory in our hearts:
From the North so rich in legends
a glory goes across the world
It is the reflection of the wonderland's enchanted meadows,
From the North so rich in legends
a glory goes across the world
It is the reflection of the wonderland's enchanted meadows!


National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

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