Midsummer Eve is the longest day of the year.
For thousands of years Danes have celebrated it, sometimes with weeklong parties.
“Midsummer day people in the old pagan times went to the holy springs to collect herbs and plants that were said to give special powers, due to these days with long evenings and lots of lights,” explained Protestant Minister Asser Skude.
In the past women considered “witches” were also burned on this night.
Midsummer Eve was renamed “St. John’s Eve” and the tradition of wild parties was tamped down when the Christian Church reached Denmark.
At Skagen, though some people remembered the old ways.
Skagen is the northernmost town in Denmark, at the very tip of a narrow peninsula, thrust into the ocean.
It’s picturesque location and the quality of evening light coming flat across the ocean made it popular with painters around the end of the 18th century. A group of artists and writers formed a small summer arts colony there.
Peder Severin Kroyer, liked to paint the bonfires at the Midsummer Eve celebrations. His painting revived and popularized the holiday. Now the holiday is promoted as a tourist attraction.
For a long time the town was known only for its Midsummer revels. Now the town government is trying to promote the region as a year-round destination.
Still the town is best known for its Midsummer Eve bonfires.
“People from all around Europe they come to experience this, from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and from Germany as well, so we have this tradition and we have been having this since the time of the artists, so it is a great evening here, where you kind of follow in the footsteps of the Skagen artists,” said Rene Zeeberg, Director of the “Skagen—Top of Denmark” tourism campaign.
People celebrate the changing of seasons and the passage of time.
“It is very interesting to see it here, how the Danes also sing the songs and you get the impression that it is an old celebration and that it has taken place for centuries,” said German tourist Axel Kurzke. “It’s wonderful to see.”
The practice of burning supposed witches had died out. Now celebrants burn things symbolically.
“I just went down to the fire and threw in all my notes because I’m done with school, and it is a fantastic feeling,” said recent school graduate Simon Winther Nielsen.