Juhannus (you-ha-noose) is the Finnish celebration of the summer solstice (June 21st), or Midsummer. This is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and anywhere above the Arctic Circle gets 24-hours of sunlight. [note: the definition of the ‘Arctic Circle’ is the latitude at which there is at least one 24-hour period of sunlight per year.]
Juhannus is a big holiday here in Finland, most likely due to the fabulous summery weather and close temporal proximity to July, the month all Finns take extended vacations. And who doesn’t love an excuse to head out to your summer cabin and chill around a campfire? Brandon arrived just in time to catch the festivities with me at Kevo, and as an extra boon, one of my Fulbright friends came up from Helsinki to spend the week with us, arriving on Juhannus.
As they are wont to do, the Kevo staff created a ‘program’ of activities. The Juhannus program kicked off with a fancy, Thanksgiving-worthy midday meal of locally caught wild salmon with all the trimmings, washed down with strawberry cake. An immediate and vitally important siesta period immediately followed this smorgasbord. By mid-afternoon I rallied and played a series of traditional Finnish outdoor games with everyone I could bully into proving their ambassadorial meddle. My favorite of these games is called mökkipeli, which translates literally to ‘summer home game’. It consists of 12 numbered wooden pillars (about 6 inches tall), which you arrange in cluster 3-4 meters from the tossing line. A larger, 10-inch wooden rod is then tossed from the tossing line at the pillars.
You get points by either knocking down a single pillar (and then you get the point value written on the pillar, so 1 to 12 points), OR you get points based on the sum of the number of pillars you knocked over. So if you knock over just the #7 pillar, you get 7 points. If you knock over the #3, #9 and #11 pillars, you get 3 points. You get the drift. The purpose of the game is to reach exactly 50 points. If you go over 50, your score reverts back to 25 and you have to build back up to 50. Every time the pillars are knocked over (and sometimes this is a violent flinging of multiple feet), they are reset to stand up where they fell, so the board, as it were, changes throughout the game as you play. This invariably means that I’m stuck at the end of the game with 46 points and the #1, #2, and #4 pillars all touching each other 6 meters away….
After we played the various outdoor games for a few hours, there was an official ceremony for raising the Finnish flag, accompanied by halfhearted traditional song singing (lyrics provided on printouts). Somewhat surprisingly for me, the flag-raising inspired a fair amount of trepidation amongst my fellow Kevo peeps, as no one actually knew the “right” knots. Something I learned: different countries have different knots they use when securing the flag up a flagpole. This meant that even Brandon, despite his impressive Eagle-Scout skills, was useless for this ceremony. The duty eventually fell to Ilkka and Heini, who not only got the giant flag onto the pole without dropping it on the ground, but also secured it with some approximation of the correct Finnish knots, and all during a semi-substantial downpour! Here they are, emerging from the flagpole area victorious. Directly following the flag ceremony was an extra-long sauna time, and eventually we all ended up in the laavu (teepee), indulging in sausages and libations around the campfire.
I was sent a bag of s’more-worthy marshmallows from Mags (because all marshmallows in Finland are fruit-flavored [gross] and tiny). Unfortunately, my fabulous gift took the opportunity in-transit to meld and create one, giant marshmallow in the package. So we had to squeeze out and pinch off small bits of marshmallow in order to consume what had essentially turned into tough, leathery ‘fluff’…. After the bag had been passed around the laavu once, the poor marshmallow bag was permanently manhandled.
At 10pm we all went down to the Kevo beach and watched a giant bonfire get lit and then burn. Somewhat surprisingly (to me) was the sheer amount of gasoline they plied this stack of wood with. 20 liters (5 gallons). Yeah. This is what happens when you give grown men gasoline and lots of wood. They even made a line of fuel in the dirt leading out to the bonfire, so the actual lighting of the bonfire entailed a ‘Wile E. Coyote’-esque trail of fire that lead to an audible ignition once it reached the bonfire.
For young Finnish ladies, Juhannus also affords the opportunity for scrying into your future love life. No crystal balls required, but you can induce a dream of your future husband by gathering a bundle of at least 7 different flowers or plants, tied together and placed under your pillow. Despite my happily wedded state, I decided to give it a run. I figured I’d probably just dream of Brandon, which would be a fabulous, psychical vote of confidence in my marriage, if you feel me. Here was my bundle of 7 flowers and one tree (birch).
Also lovely, I had one of my besties here in Finland up for the week, and she arrived on Juhannus. We spent the next few days hiking, visiting the village and chilling. She also came out into the field with me one day, braving the bugs and the boredom to keep me company and help me out.
This is the same friend that actually came and visited me at Kevo in November, so it was really fun for her to see the two ‘sides’ of Kevo. Back in November, we had attempted a hike near the village, but it was too snowy. The trail head has these great stick statues of a fox and some reindeer, which we took photos near both times:
This short hike was really nice, although very buggy, and there was a point along the path where you could look down and see a large portion of the village of Utsjoki, including the bridge to Norway (everything on the left side of the river is Norway).
And in other news, the Arctic cloudberries have arrived! These little berries are an acquired taste, but my field site is swimming in them, and so I have acquired the taste this month. Still waiting on the blueberries to ripen…