Midsummer, or juhannus, is the most enthusiastically celebrated holiday in Finland, and is also the most democratic. Whereas the other big annual party day, May Day, is primarily worthy of observation only to a social anthropologist studying the effects of excessive alcohol consumption and municipal open-air toilets in public spaces, and is beloved primarily by teenagers who get shitfaced in the centre of towns, juhannus is notable mainly for the mass exodus of city-dwellers into the countryside to do pretty much exactly the same thing, except this time everyone gets drunk, not only irresponsible adolescents.
For the majority of Finns the midsummer weekend also marks the beginning of their month-long summer holiday. They head off to their summer cottages on the Friday, put up the Finnish flag, light a bonfire, and don’t come back for four weeks. Most holidays have some vaguely unpleasant or unusual aspect, especially for foreigners: at Easter you have to eat mämmi, in the winter you might be invited to jump in an icy lake. Juhannus is great because for 95 per cent of the time all you do is sit in the countryside and drink, or if you don’t drink, you just sit in the countryside, and the worst thing that can be said about that is that it’s a bit boring.
If you happen to end up staying in an urban conurbation during midsummer you might realise that this is also the best weekend to be in Finnish towns for the simple reason that there’s practically no-one else there. As the tumbleweed blows across your path and you walk down the street like Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, you might be wondering, along with the crowds of bemused Japanese tourists gathered together in packs for safety, where the hell everyone is. You might also have an epiphany a few seconds later when you realise how much nicer it is to be in town without any people there. Admittedly most shops and restaurants are closed but you can always find some out-of-the-way boozerie where you can hang out for a few hours. Or do your shopping earlier you unorganised nonce.
As I said, however, most Finns are in the beautiful Finnish countryside at this time of year. If you follow them you might find that, with a rather feeble population density of 17 people per square kilometre (the UK has a respective figure of 246), you won’t see anyone there either. The fact is that most Finns would much rather only come into contact with other humans very rarely, which is why midsummer is so beloved, as in town there’s nobody around, and in the countryside there isn’t anyone either. If, when walking in the forest, you do by chance come across another human being, the Finnish government has issued stiff directives: firstly, stop where you are; secondly, maintain eye contact; thirdly, slowly walk backwards until they are out of view. On no account attempt to communicate with them.
One final important point: if someone suggests you go fishing after drinking six beers, a few shots of Koskenkorva and some Jägermeister (‘to help digestion’) JUST SAY NO. Especially if all you’ve had to eat were a couple of sausages and some crisps. Every year a dozen or so drunkards die on juhannus as they go fishing in their little boat, get overtaken by the urge to urinate, stand up, get confused undoing their trousers, and fall into the lake. This is clear evidence that Darwin’s theories of evolution were entirely correct. If you choose not to follow my sage advice, at least don’t attempt the above-mentioned ‘overboard urination’ technique. Just wet your pants instead. It’s uncomfortable, but you won’t drown.