Annual Midsummer Celebration
Saturday Jun 24, 2023 - Saturday Jun 24, 2023
5:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Museum of Danish America
2212 Washington Street
Elk Horn, IA
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Sankt Hans Aften
History of Sankt Hans Aften
Before Christianity came to Denmark, Scandinavian peoples celebrated the longest day as a supernatural struggle between light and dark, heat and cold. Since the feast day of Saint John the Baptist occurred on June 23, near the date of the annual summer solstice, the Christian Church emphasized this celebration in Scandinavia. “Hans” is the diminutive of “Johannes” or “John.” Today it’s a very good excuse to stay up late, have fun, and light bonfires.
In the late 19th century, it became common to affix a figure resembling a witch on top of a bonfire. The witch is said to be sent back to Brocken/Blocksberg in the Harz Mountains of Germany, reflecting a traditional uneasiness Danes feel about their powerful neighbor to the south. Some Danes regard this particular part of the tradition with mixed emotions as it evokes memories of the horrible persecutions and "witch" burnings carried out in Denmark and other European countries in the 17th century. However, this custom is only a little part of the overall tradition, and it is extremely easy to immerse yourself in the general atmosphere of friends gathering together, which surrounds the celebration.
Over time, the tradition of lighting bonfires became dominant and other rituals gradually withered away as people enjoyed the coziness of gathering around a warm fire.
Songs and music are a part of this tradition, which during the 19th century the singing of traditional folk songs were replaced by patriotic songs. The best known of these is the Danish patriotic song, Vi elsker vort land (We love our country) also known as Midsommervisen (Midsummer song). This song is sung at every Sankt Hans Aften celebration across the country and it is thus very important for Danes to know this song, which was written in 1885 by the Danish poet Holger Drachmann; the original version included music by P.E. Lange-Müller. In 1979 the Danish pop band "Shu-bi-dua" composed a new melody for the song, and since then either version has been accepted and used at Sankt Hans Aften celebrations among Danish groups. For the full lyrics click here.