Have we talked too much about strange, Danish traditions? I think not! Let’s talk a bit about the wondrous, anarchistic night of mayhem that is Midsummer’s Eve in Denmark.
As far as this humble writer is informed, Midsummer’s Eve is the celebration of the longest day of the year and the sad realization that things are now heading in the opposite direction. Either way, for hundreds of years now we’ve had this tradition of getting together, singing songs and lighting songs to ward of evil spirits, witches and other creatures of the night.
Well, as with so many other Danish traditions, hundreds of years alcohol consumption, friendly competition, and a plethora of twigs and wood at hand coupled with the usual Danish do or die attitude, this wonderful tradition has now warped into a bit of a yearly arms race as to see who can put on the best BBQ, the best show, and, most importantly, the biggest fire.. And I think this year my team won!
Well, okay, so it wasn’t really my team.. But I was ON the winning team.. By accident! See, I’d headed back from Nyborg Monday night thinking that someone (namely Tina) might want to do something on Midsummer’s Eve Tuesday. Luckily someone (namely Tina) had had about the same idea and on Tuesday morning invited me to spend the day/evening with her, her parents and friends at her parents’ place somewhat out of town.
Not being one to usually pass up free dinner, free drinks and, most importantly, good company, I quickly got with the program, packed my stuff up and jumped on a train to hopscotched a few stations to meet up with Tina who picked me up at the station along with her parents’ dog, Frida, aka the cutest little thing ever.. Or.. On par with Zascha’s parents’ dog anyways, together we – having struggled a little to convince the dog to jump off Tina’s lap and let her drive – we drove back to Tina’s parents’ place to do a bit of work on our respective theses before allowing ourselves to goof off and take the night off.
As if by some stroke of luck, we actually both managed to get a fair bit of work done, sitting around her parents’ kitchen table and listening to some music – including lots of Nick Cave and Johnny Cash who Tina, much to my approval noted that she might well become fond of – good girl! We struggled on valiantly till around 6 PM when the whirlwind that sometimes is Tina’s mother arrived home and started a frantic attempt of getting things ready for the BBQ that we were apparently heading out to before the evening’s bonfire, all while bickering slightly with both Tina and myself. This went on well for all of five minutes before I somehow managed to get myself stuck on both women’s bad sides and discovered just why two front wars is such a bad idea.
Having failed at bickering and fighting with two women at once, I decided to make myself useful instead and helped Tina and her mom pack a pickenick basket for the evening ahead. Tina’s brother, Kim, had arrived in the mean time and gone straight for the shower, but did eventually join the rest of us in the kitchen where he took the time to complain a bit about Tina’s new computer and our taste in music before the lot of us headed a few houses down the street. To where we were apparently supposed to meet up with the other families from town, enjoy a community BBQ and light a fire or two. Tina’s poor dad was stuck at work still, so he wouldn’t be joining us before later in the evening. This, Tina’s mother remarked to the neighbors, would be no problem, though, as she’d brought all three of us to compensate. “Hah,” a wise neighbor ventured, “you lot better start talking, then” – which I did, because it’s generally hard for me to keep my mouth closed for more than two minutes at a time.. Something Tina remarked on within a minute of me opening my mouth.. To which I replied that I’d actually been asked to speak and that I could just shut up and not mingle if she’d prefer.. And to otherwise just keep her mouth shut while the grown-ups were talking 😉
Tina opted to not reply to this with more than a slight grin and instead decided to go look for her sunglasses.. That were conveniently stuck in her hair, something I found great fun in pointing out to her and everybody else within earshot. Tina, however, didn’t think this anywhere near as funny as I did, so she decided to shot my mouth in the quickest and best way she knew; by suggesting we go find a place to sit down and have a beer.. Smart girl!
Having found a place to sit and a beer to sip (or a glass of Verdi in Tina’s mothers case), we now only needed to get something to eat, so we unpacked our food, put salad and potato salad on the table, then headed off to the grill to fry some sausages, get some smoke in our faces, talk a bit with the neighbors and crack various jokes.. It was all great fun and resulted in some nice food as an added bonus which we happily consumed while I entertained Tina and the table with tales of my recent (agave related ) battle scars. This mildly amused and mildly scared some onlookers while Tina merely shrugged and went something along the lines of “you should see him when he really gets going.”
After a second round of sausages, of which I had the most as I decided to fry up a bunch not really realizing that only I wanted more (eh, too bad, it’s a tough job eating for three, but someone has to do it), Tina’s dad finally arrived, took one look at the food I’d prepared, then decided against it and went to fry up some sausages of his own. The rest of us, minus Kim, decided to join him for more community laughs around the grill. Tina had, at this point, discovered a stash of free wine (she has a nose for these things, I swear!), so her and I were pretty happy and chatty, mingling around, seeking out the sun and chilling in it with some more wine.
We talked a fair bit amongst ourselves, but also with a lot of other friendly people. We once again did a banging job of introducing myself as Tina’s friend, even going as far as choosing the most neutrally laden synonyms for the word friend.. And once again, nobody seemed to get the picture.. Apparently while it’s hard for city dwellers to understand the concept of boys and girls being just friends, it becomes downright impossible for dwellers of smaller communities to understand this. It’s amusing, really, that I stress three times in front of people that we’re just friends and walk by two minutes later overhearing something like “Well, Tina’s other half there..” – So much for trying to set things straight. At least Tina can laugh it off unlike others who have gotten downright upset over the assumption 😉
After a bit of sun, a bit of wine, a nice talk and a lot of categorical denying various assumptions, we were finally at the highlight of the evening: The lighting of the bonfire.. Or, whatever the hell it was It looked more like a contraption out of a horror novel that must have taken weeks if not months to complete. The thing was literally several meters tall and even wider than it was tall, At the very top towered a life-sized doll version if a witch – another piece of tradition that I’m not too sure of – and the whole thing was set ablaze by the help of several liters of an unknown, flammable liquid.. Add tp this the steady supply of beers and reasonably dry surroundings, and in many cultures this would be considered a brilliant example of how NOT to do things, in Denmark it’s a yearly tradition., usually accompanied by the singing of various hymns and cheering.. Oh how I would love to at some point bring a bunch of foreigners to one of these events and just watch them go “Wait… You’re doing what now?!”
For such a huge fire, the whole thing actually burned down rather quickly.. As in the time it took Tina and I to steal a few beers of the locals and consume those while snapping a few pictures of the spectacle. Oh, and for Tina’s dad to drop by our little group, give me a caring squeeze and once again inform me that I wasn’t right in the head.. Something he’s come to enjoy doing and something I’ve come to interpret as his way of saying that he cares. But all in all, it was probably a good thing that the whole thing was over rather quickly, it was a standard Tuesday night after all and most if not all of us had work in the morning, so people slowly but steadily started disbanding. Tina’s parents, too, eventually said their goodbyes and left, and not long after, Tina, Kim and I followed.
We first dropped Tina off at her parent’s house, and I’d then been lucky enough to score a ride with Kim to the local train station where he dropped me off a few minutes later, sadly just minutes after the train had left.. But hey, that gave me the opportunity to walk around town for a little, reflecting over the evening and feeling rather buzzed from the beer and wine while listening to some good music and killing the hour or so I had to wait for the train to arrive.
It had all been a rather good experience. I of course love spending time with Tina, but I really like her family as well, we have a lot of fun and crack a lot of jokes.. And I may not be right in the head.. But, hey, neither are they, so it’s all good!