June 19, 2018 | Leave a comment
Midsummer in Scandinavia
June 19, 2018 | Leave a comment
Midsummer in Scandinavia
June 1, 2018 | 1 Comment
Seven things about Nordic Midsummer
The longest day of the year is very important to us Northern people. We have light! And not only that, we have so much of it we hardly see dark and we get to make up for all of those months of candle lit cosiness and snow.
We all celebrate the day slightly differently, so here are a few facts to get you started in the preparations.
Sweden treats Midsummer like it’s national day. Actually, Sweden’s national day is a few weeks earlier, but everybody celebrates Midsummer instead. It’s always celebrated on the closest Friday (this year, 22nd June) and it’s a public holiday.
In London, it’s celebrated on the Saturday because we need to not be at work when we do it – this year the 23rd of June.
In Denmark and Norway the evening is celebrated on the actual day (23rd June, no matter if it’s a Friday or not) and there, it’s called St John’s Eve as well as Midsommer Aften – Sankthans or Sankthansaften. In Finland it is commonly known as Juhannus or also Midsommar.
Sweden and Finland celebrate with Midsummer poles. These are a bit like May Poles, except it’s not May and ours have a lot of fertility symbols associated with them. The Midsummer poles are covered in flowers and greenery. Everybody wears flower garlands in their hair and very summery clothes. Some Swedish people try the yellow/blue flag combo for clothes, but it is rarely a good look. You’ll also see little flags on the table – adding to the festive feeling.
Danes burn witches on Midsummer eve. Much like the British burn Guy Fawkes, the Danes like to burn witches on this evening and send them off to Blue Mountain in Germany to dance with the devil. All while the (usually stuffed hay effigy) witches are burning on the bonfire, Danes sing songs about how much they love Denmark (usually a lone guy on a guitar will lead the singing – he always sings with his eyes closed and is very serious).
It’s still all about food. For the Swedes, it is all about the day long picnic and being outside. Meatballs are featured and it is high season for Sandwich cakes, too. The Danes tend to celebrate in the evening with dinner at home, but spend the evening trying to bake stick bread on the embers of the bon fire (it never works), and in Norway people will either have a picnic on the fjord (in a boat or on the beach) or have hot dogs around the bonfire. (For a classic midsummer picnic, you can check out our midsummer selection here.) In Finland Midsummer often marks the beginning of the summer holidays – so many Finns celebrate in their summer house by a lake, perhaps sipping a few Lonkero whilst soaking up the midnight sun.. aaand relax.
What about the little frogs? The Swedes, at every given opportunity but none more so than Midsummer, will sing songs about little frogs with no ears and no tails, whilst jumping around the Midsummer pole. Old, young, everyone. It’s a thing and it looks odd – but it is super fun. Do join in.
Swedes and Norwegians pick seven wild flowers on Midsummer eve and put them under their pillow. They will dream of the person they will marry. Some don’t even wait that long, as the birth rate spikes in Sweden every year exactly nine months after Midsummer.
There are Midsummer events held all over the UK – both Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian. Local churches are a good place to start for information on where to go.
There is no big official London picnic (there never is – it’s all a bit spontaneous) but people tend to gather in patches in the different parks and just bring a picnic. Ask local Scandies for details or just wander around and look for the people with flowers in their hair. You’ll find them.
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How to count in Danish
(also known as ‘how to confuse Swedes’)
While the Scandi languages are very close – we can all understand most of each other’s languages, especially after a few beers – there are certain areas where things just stumble and everybody is left lost. This causes all sorts of awkward situations. One such subject is counting in Danish numbers, because Danes count in something called vigesimal – which is basically counting in twenties rather than tens (not dissimilar to the French).
First, the basics: The ones, then the tens…
In Danish: En, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte, ni, ti.
Swedish and Norwegian follows a logic structure of counting:
10 in Swedish is Tio. Twenty is Tjugo. Thirty is Tretio. Forty is Firtio. Fifty is Femtio. You see where we’re going with this – logically, adding ten (tio) on the end. It’s similar in Norwegian.
Now, the same in Danish: The singles are fine – and then…
10 = Ti
To understand, we need to look at the old word sinde, which meant ‘times’ (as in ‘multiply’).
We also need to understand that the root of the numbers work on twenties rather than tens. So, 60 is tres – coming from tre(3)-sinde-tyve(20)=tresindetyve=tres(60), [shortened to tres].
Eighty follows similar patterns, as it is of course 4 time 20 = fire(4)-sinde-tyve(20)=firsindetyve=firs(80)
Still with it? Okay, let’s complicate it a bit now. The halves.
Halv 3 = 2½, halv 4 = 3½, halv 5 = 4½
70 is Halvfjers = 3 x 20 + 10 (the half) = halvfjerde-sinde-tyve – shortened to halvfjerds (70).
90 is Halvfems = 4 x 20 + 10 (the half) = halvfem-sinde-tyve – shortened to halvfems (90).
Now remember that no Danes will ever count in the full words – they will only use the shortened version. Also, few Danes understand the logic behind the numbering system, meaning some teachers find it hard to teach maths to younger children, due to this structure – let alone explain it to a foreinger, let alone a drunk Swede stranded in a bar in Copenhagen trying to pay for his beer.
Also, just in case you need something else to set the system aside from say Swedish: In Swedish, you count with the tens first – then the singles. Example: Femti-fyra = 54. The same number in Danish would be Fireoghalvtreds, i.e. the singular number first. So, four-and-half-twenty-times-four-and-a-half-kill-me-now.
Lastly, you need to know that the Danish numbering system is not hyphenated like it is in say, English. So, 95 in English is ninety-five, and the same number in Danish would be written femoghalvfems (five and half fives – the og (and) linking the numbers together to form the final number.
How about ordering four half threes of eggs? 54. Or maybe we’re counting the pigs on the farm – there are three half fives (93).
In short, the Danish numbering system stems from counting in twenties and half twenties – and looking to make anyone who attempts to explain it wish they had never attempted to do so.
It is a constant source of amusement and confusion to the Swedes and Norwegians that Danes can actually work out how to count in the first place.
Next week: how to say 1st, 5th, 10th, and 40th in Danish. This is when it gets really complicated.
This week’s homework: Find a Swede or Norwegian and ask him to count for you in Danish and watch him squirm with uncomfortable feelings.
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