Sankt Hans Midsummer Celebration
Sankt Hans Aften takes its name from John the Baptist, who was born six months before Jesus. With Christmas celebrated on December 24th in Denmark, that puts John's birthday on June 24th. The tradition of celebrating the eve of his birthday with a bonfire dates back to the 1600's. According to legend, the summer solstice is a night imbued with evil, in which witches make their way to the Brocken in northern Germany. In Order to ward off those broomstick riding witches, Danes light a bonfire to keep the forces at bay. And if that weren't enough, the bonfires are topped with a witch figure which is set ablaze while the Danes eat, drink and make merry in recognition of summer's peak and associated with beautiful late sunsets.
The Advent Wreath
The Danes' Christmas begins with the Advent Wreath. Traditionally, the wreath is made of spruce cuttings, decorated with red berries and tree cones, white candles and red ribbons for hanging the wreath from the ceiling. Every Sunday a new candle is lit together with the one(s) already lit the previous Sunday. This means that all four candles - each one obviously shorter than the other(s) - are burning all together on the fourth Advent Sunday, Christmas Eve.
Dancing around the tree on Christmas Eve
After dinner the tree is lit, and everyone joins hands and walks around the tree singing traditional Danish songs. A lot of people don't have enough space to tour around the tree. In that case, then it is fine to sit down, reflect and enjoy the spectacle. When the children have had quite enough of the singing (and that doesn't take very long) it is finally time for the unwrapping of gifts. Normally one of the children is chosen to find and deliver the presents one at a time. Then wait until the recipient has opened the gift and shown appreciation. It is up to the dealer to see that no one gets left alone during this long climax of Christmas. After the last present, it is time for fresh fruit, cookies, candy, coffee, and maybe a beer.