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How to Celebrate Midsommar Like a Norwegian

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Norway midsummer bonfire
Bonfires are a key part of Sankthans celebrations

Midsommar or Sankthans is celebrated throughout the Nordic region and Baltic states on 24 June every year, but the celebrations really start the day before. This is called Sankthansaften, and for us is when the fun really starts.

Sankthans is right in the middle of the Nordic summer and when the days are at their absolute longest. In the far south of Norway we can expect only a few hours of darkness each night and the further north you go the lighter the nights become until there is only daylight.

Sankthans is a wonderful incorporation of both Christian festival (the birth date of St John) and ancient pagan rituals combined together to embrace all cultures both old and new. Sankthans was thought to be a day of magical properties and a lot of importance was put on the power of flowers with many regions using flowers and leaves to decorate their homes to protect and bless the house.

The night before Sankthans was a powerful time for the old ways and the way of witches. It was said that this evening was a great time for witches to gather and celebrate and even saw some burned at the stake for such celebrations.

In my region of Norway, Vestfold, Sankthans celebrations are taken much more seriously than in other parts of Norway with a boat flotilla, bonfires on the beach and public buildings closed.

So how can we make the most of this magical day and evening and celebrate like a Norwegian?

I have a few fun suggestions that you can incorporate into your own celebrations....

Norway midsommer flowers
Children love to make crowns out of flowers

Start your celebrations on 23 June

Be like a true Norwegian and start with Sankthansaften (St Hans Eve). This is the evening when the bonfires are lit and the singing and dancing starts. Everything starts in the early evening so that people of all ages can take part from the very youngest to the oldest. Children like to make flower garlands and turn them into crowns. We are lucky enough to have lots of daisies blooming by Sankt Hans and they are the perfect flower for this, but use whatever you have available and let your imagination guide you.

Red campion
Sankthansblomt, the St Hans Flower

Embrace the power of the Sankthansblomster

The Red Campion flower is named after St Hans, Sankthansblomst which is fitting as it is at it's best in June. Flowers play an important role in many of the festival days in the Nordic region and none more than Midsummer. Legend says that if you sleep with seven different types of flowers under your pillow on Sankthansaften you will dream of the one you will marry.

Spend time with family and friends

For my family this is a key day to celebrate with our own tradition of getting together, and we all enjoy going to my sister-in-law's to share some grilled food and make the most of the warm days. It marks the start of the summer holiday season and is a time when everyone is still at home and no-one has yet gone away on holiday.

Light a bonfire

Norwegians have been celebrating Sankthans with bonfires for time immemorial. Fires are lit on the beaches and people love to gather together and celebrate into the long night with dancing, singing and grilling. In fact the biggest bonfire ever recorded was in 2016 in Ålesund. It measured 47 metres tall, as tall as the Arc de Triomphe. If you aren't able to light a bonfire, maybe you can light a fire in a firepit, or even light some candles. It's the symbolism that counts.

Enjoy some Nordic food

Norwegians love to mark special days with certain foods and Sankthans is no exception. The food most commonly eaten on this day is rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge) and spekemat (cured meats). It shouts summer to anyone in the Nordic region and is a delicious and slightly decadent way to make the most of the day. If this doesn't sound like your kind of thing, then why not try a bløtkake or a simple prawn smørbrød.

Decorate your home with flowers and leaves

In Vestfold many people love to use small branches off the silver birch trees to decorate their homes on this day. The flotilla of small boats that sails through the harbour is decorated with branches and a plethora of wild flowers like Ox Eye Daisies. Why not bring it a little Midsommer into your own home with a few flowers or some small cut branches that remind us that we are in the warmest and most abundant part of the year.


Do you want to learn more about midsummer in the Nordics? In my e-guide I'll show you how you can celebrate in an authentically Nordic way


Will you be celebrating? Let me know how you are making the most of Midsommar in the comments.

For more Nordic Living chat join us in the Living a Nordic Life Facebook Group. We'd love to see you there.

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