Sunday, June 24, 2012

Midsummer


Nikolai Astrup, Midsummer Eve Bonfire, undated, oil on canvas, 60 x 66 cm. Courtesy of the Bergen Art Museum.
If you are familiar with the work of Nikolai Astrup, chances are you have seen a painting of a Norwegian Midsummer celebration.  A holdover from pre-Christian times, Midsummer coincides with the solstice, making it the longest day of the year.  While Midsummer has been historically celebrated throughout Europe, in the Northern countries where the longest day can be very long, the experience of this day strikes a sharp contrast to the darkest day of the year, which explains why even in our caffeine fueled, electrically illuminated world, it is still widely celebrated.  In Bergen, the sun was above the horizon for 19 hours, with twilight in between, as compared to the darkest day which was a dim and cloudy 4 hours of the most meager light.  In Christian times, Midusmmer survived in Norway as Sankthans or Jonsok (June 24th), named for St. John the Baptist, and is celebrated with a bonfire on the evening of June 23rd.

Growing up in Los Angeles, with bright sun and warm weather year round, I took the sunlight for granted and never really grasped the concept of seasons.  The long days in Norway make everything grow really fast and the light and heat bring everyone out into the streets, late into the evening, making it a wonderful time of year.  

Firefighters ascending the tower of barrels to ignite the top.
On the 23rd, we walked down the hill to Laksev├ąg to witness a giant tower of barrels go up in flames.  It is actually the largest barrel bonfire in the world (around 18 meters tall).  The boys were pretty nervous to watch the firefighters climbing the tower to set it on fire, but it took a while for the blaze to really take off.  
Jonah and Oscar admire the inferno.
It was about 10pm when things got started and, as the tower burned, the mood slid into a sort of delirium...  and we went home with daylight to spare.

The fire spread quickly...


And soon it was coming out of our mouths.

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