“Are you going to work again? I’d rather you take a sauna.”
Eija Heikura is about half my height, but I know better than to argue. Inside that tiny woman’s frame is a veritable tornado of cooking, cleaning, fussing, and motherly love. The night I arrived, Eija gave me her own peach-colored bathrobe with puffy sleeves straight out of the 80s and a pair of powder blue shower shoes. I took the robe but left the shoes, figuring I prefer bare feet anyway. Those little blue shoes followed me around the house from my room to the bathroom and back, until I found them waiting for me outside the shower a second time and finally gave in. It is Midsummer weekend, and no one is supposed to be working anyway.
When I was making travel plans to Finland, my oldest friend Johanna said, “whatever you do, don’t miss Midsummer.” Johanna studied abroad in a gap year before college, and her Finnish family is coming to her wedding in August. I had been told that by multiple people, actually, but was curious why it was such a big deal. This weekend, I set myself to finding out what Finnish Midsummer is all about.
Finnish Midsummer, celebrated annually around the 21st of June, marks the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer holidays. (Finns get 30 days of paid vacation a year! Hey Rest of the World, are you taking notes?) Tuukka and I celebrated with a break from all the action. We went geocaching in a nearby drainage ditch:
visited the horses:
And I spent some time chasing the biggest rabbits (hares?) I have ever seen around their yard:
The Heikuras and I watched a movie called Rovaniemen Markkinoilla, a Finnish classic that has a character inspired by Petronella named “Kaunis Sylvi” (or “Beautiful Sylvia”).
Solange once mentioned that Petronella was offered a role in a movie, but turned it down. I wonder if this was it?
And then the real Midsummers Eve celebrations began! We drove to Seurasaari, an island recreation area and open air museum that hosts a traditional celebration. There were smiths, jewelers, 100-year-old wooden boats, folk dancers, musicians, bonfires, and an actual wedding. It was so refreshing to be in a place where people still made everything by hand, where the simplicity that I’ve been yearning for is still very much alive, at least for a night.
We ate sausages, danced, and watched the newlyweds light the bonfire in the rain. The sun came back out and began to set, igniting the windowed office buildings across the water in blazing orange fire. We hiked around the island at 11:30pm, watching the colors. “This is nature,” Eija said, and then she told me a joke about horse poop.
Midsummers Eve also seems to be about magic. It is a celebration of light and new life, but also the turning point at which the days begin to shorten and darkness falls once again. Witches and evil spirits are said to roam on Midsummer night, and the Finns have long performed magical rites connected with fortune, happiness, love, healthy livestock, marriage, relationships, or fortune-telling (you can read more about it here).
I paid 50 cents for my fortune, and it said:
All superstition aside, from what I can tell, the real reason Midsummer is a big deal is because it is a celebration of love. I suppose there is the kind of love that is put on ceremony, with the waltz and the public wedding that takes place every year.
But there was something far more tangible, something right in front of me. It came in the form of two people I’ve been watching for the past few days with earnest, watching as he reached the dishes that were too high in the cupboard and she held them in her hands a little longer than necessary, watching as they helped each other adjust their plastic raincoats so only their noses were showing. When I asked them how long they had been married, Eija spit her milk across the dinner table. Forty-five years later, they still make each other laugh one-hundred times a day, they still have all of the words and none of the words to say to each other.
And on a level that hits even closer to home, a world away, another family of mine is getting married this weekend. A family that has given freely of their food, laughter, backgammon, love, healing, friendship, music – anything worth sharing, really – with me for the past 5 years. I was supposed to sing at their wedding this weekend, and it broke my heart to have to miss it. But perhaps they are here, too, sharing in this Midsummer.
I think they are.