It was mid summer when I was in Copenhagen – Sankt Hans aften – the solstitial celebration. Apparently the second most celebrated festival after Christmas in Denmark. Bonfires, picnics and speeches are the done thing to celebrate. The bonfires hark back to a time of witch burning which is a subject of debate as it is now seen by many as politically incorrect to ‘celebrate’ such a thing. Big bonfires were set up around the city for the night before and there was quite an atmosphere of celebration in the streets. The photo above was actually in the window of a cake shop in Sweden (I took a $10 return ferry trip to Sweden…who wouldn’t?!). The Swedes celebrate midsummer a day later and in quite a different style to the Danes (from my very limited understanding and conversations).
The people I was meeting with invited me to join their office picnic. All day I saw the young interns in the office rushing around dipping strawberries in chocolate, making warm alcoholic drinks and getting excited about the picnic. Late in the afternoon we walked over to a local park in front of (yet another) palace of the royal family. All around the park there were similar groups of office workers having picnics and celebrating midsummer and the start of their summer holidays. They played an interesting game called Kings which involved throwing thick wood sticks to try and knock down wooden blocks – harder than it looked. And then one of their colleagues read out a speech he had prepared (while another translated it into English for me). A story about a woman who was declared a witch and burnt. Apparently in those days the King got to keep the possessions of the ‘witches’ after they were disposed of. This ‘witch’ was a very wealthy woman, and that King was in dire financial straits at the time. Join the dots?
There were gaudily decorated trucks driving around the city playing loud music, blaring their horns and doing everything to draw attention and smiles from people around them. They had graduating school kids standing in the back, drinking beer, shouting, clapping and all round celebrating. Apparently the tradition is that when the kids finish school they go and visit all their classmates houses where they are given a beer and something to eat. The modern version (and safer version I guess rather than lots of teens drink driving) is for the class to hire a truck to take them from one house to the next. The Danish version of our ‘schoolies week’ which was probably less obnoxious and at its heart a nice tradition of visiting classmates families as part of saying goodbye. They certainly added to the party atmosphere in the streets.
Here is a photo of one of the bonfires in the Nyhavn area, waiting to be lit, complete with witch on top. I was worried about all the lovely old timber boats that are normally parked in this canal. All day they had manoeuvred around to make space for the bonfire and as you can see in the photo, they have kept their distance (compare this photo with the next which shows you what this canal normally looks like). It was so cold that in the end we gave up on waiting for the bonfire to start.
A more typical view of Nyhavn:
As I walked back to my hotel I spotted another bonfire opposite my hotel. This photo was taken at about 11pm…hard to believe that it is not in the middle of the afternoon given how light it still was then.