A magical day celebrated for hundreds of years in many cultures. Most notably in the Nordic countries where summers are short, and every bit of sunshine is treasured.
Finns call this longest period of daylight in the year Juhannus. Celebrated with family and friends at lively festivals or quietly at lake cottages.
In Michigan’s Copper Country it’s celebrated with music, dancing and the lighting of the annual kokko on Agate Beach in Toivola.
The celebration officially begins at the Finnish-American Heritage Center at Finlandia University with the raising of the midsummer pole, decorated with flower wreaths, believed to harness nature’s power.
Folk School workshops centered on traditional Finnish music were the focal point of this year’s event. Attendees learned how to build a jouhikko, an ancient Finnish bowed lyre from the Karelian region, from wood and horse hair. Later in the day they learned how to play the jouhikko inside a charming old schoolhouse in Misery Bay.
The all-female folk band Jepokryddona traveled from Finland to headline the Juhannus event with performances throughout the day and workshops in traditional folk dance. The band originates from the Swedish speaking village of Jeppo, on the western side of Finland, and plays mostly traditional wedding music.
The band first led a dance workshop for the Kivajat Dancers and later for anyone in the public interested in learning traditional Finnish folk dance.
Christine Julin-Haggman, the director of the band, brought her accordion to the Misery Bay schoolhouse that afternoon for a unique jam session. A once in a lifetime experience for any Finnish-American musician.
The tiny village of Toivola has been celebrating the summer solstice for over a hundred years. The pavilion next to Agate Beach was packed with people enjoying the midsummer sun, potluck dinner, and camaraderie. Music from the strings and accordion of Jepokryddona filled the warm air. Spirits were high as those young and young at heart spun around the dance floor.
The evening culminated with the lighting of the Juhannus kokko on the shore of Lake Superior. Flames flickered from the 15-foot-high bonfire as the sun slowly set over the sparkling water. Young children tossed rocks in the lake, and local musicians serenaded the people who had gathered to enjoy this special tradition.
A festival of light, of flowers, music and magic. Celebrating something that is purely nature. It sounds like a scene from “Game of Thrones” but this is real, tradition centuries old, still strongly woven into the culture of Finnish-Americans.
For My Finnish-American Life, I’m Kristin Ojaniemi.
Kristin Ojaniemi is a Finnish-American filmmaker, video creator and proud Yooper full of sisu.