What is the Sankt Hans Aften Tradition?

Each year on June 23, Denmark marks its traditional Sankt Hans Aften or Saint John’s Night on the eve of the saint’s feast. This tradition dates back to the pagan times.

The celebration of Sankt Hans Aften, also known as a midsummer night event, is done through the lighting of a large bonfire.

The history of this midsummer celebration can be traced to the past belief that this period during the summer solstice will have nature including humans, plants, trees, animals, soil and springs filled with energy coming from the sun. As such, people would go out to the countryside and gather herbs and plants. By the time Christianity came to Denmark, the pagan activity was changed and instead people started gathering together and lighting bonfires as a way to drive away evil spirits and witches.

A major part of this activity is the witch effigy that Danes create using sticks tied together. The effigy which symbolizes the evil spirits is then placed into the bonfire. 

Across Denmark, North Jutland and Skagen are the most popular areas where the Sankt Hans is actively celebrated. In North Jutland’s coast, the beaches are packed with people on the evening of June 23. There, the Danes gather around a bonfire to picnic or barbecue and learn the Midsummer song or the Vi Elsker Vort Land. Speeches are then given by local politicians or writers and then entertainment can be enjoyed until early morning. 

In the area of Aalbaek, a parade usually takes place with some 50 men from the Frederkshavn’s guard company and orchestra leading the group. Another area in Denmark that celebrates Sankt Hans is Hirtshals on the west coast. Before the bonfire that starts at sunset, the people there normally hold a treasure hunt activity.

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