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Midsummer at Fiskars Ironworks

Midsummer Day has been celebrated in Christian tradition to honour the birth of John the Baptist. Coinciding with Midsummer Day, there was the summer solstice, which was celebrated in grandeur even in pagan times, when the festival was connected particularly to growth and fertility, and honouring nature for its newly blossomed flowers and greenness. In Finland, Midsummer Day was celebrated on the 24th of June – John’s name day- until the mid-1950’s, and then in 1954 the celebrations were moved to a weekend between the 20th and 26th of June.

In addition to Christmas, Midsummer Day is, no doubt, the annual festival with most traditions connected to it in Finland. On Midsummer Day, people would go to sauna to be clean for the party in the evening. People aspired for cleanliness in their homes as well, and scrubbed them thoroughly before starting the celebrations of Midsummer Day.  Saunas and, for example, doorframes and windows were often decorated with birch branches for the festival. Great numbers of birch whisks were made around Midsummer Day for use later that year, because birch is most flexible during that time. The whisks, which were made honouring traditions, were naturally also used in Midsummer sauna. Midsummer bonfires are a tradition which has spread to almost every corner of Finland and were burned on Midsummer Eve, though in the Swedish-speaking areas they are often replaced by maypoles.

A Midsummer specialty are the numerous magic rituals connected with it. Midsummer magic was used to try and predict things, particularly things related to future harvests and marriages, and no wonder, since the festival was a celebration of fertility and growth. Typically, people would use magic to find out who they would marry or when they would marry. Abundant drinking on Midsummer Day was thought to enhance harvest, and this has, perhaps, contributed to the fact that Midsummer is still known for consumption of large amounts of alcohol.

Midsummer was the most important annual festival in Fiskars, and it was celebrated long and hard – for three whole days. Midsummer, timed in the middle of summer in all its glory, brought a welcomed pause to the daily grind.

Midsummer celebrations began with quite mundane tasks. Big furniture was taken to the river bank of Fiskarsinjoki, to be thoroughly scrubbed, and since there were no wallpapers in the 19th century, walls were chalked, and this was done on Midsummer. After a thorough clean, houses were decorated with fresh birch branches. And then, finally, it was time for the party to begin. It started with a shared coffee time in the grand main building of the Ironworks, the Kivimuuri.

People would go to the Kivimuuri in a succession led by fiddlers. The star of the show was indisputably Bacchus, a boy decorated with red peonies and sprigs pulled by a merry band of boys on a beer barrel. Because the procession had a predetermined marching order, women and children walked at the end of it. At the Kivimuuri, people shared coffee, and after that, the owner of the Ironworks was paraded around in a golden chair. Bacchus and the golden chair have given an air of carnival to the Fiskars Midsummer Day.

Dance was an essential part of Midsummer, and was practiced for three nights in Fiskars. On the first night, the dance would go on until two in the morning, on the second until one o’clock, and on the third night, dancing ended around midnight. Originally, the yard of the cutlery mill functioned as the party venue, but later the dance was moved to Baklura. It had its own maypole around which people would continue to dance after the festival had ended. During wartime in the 1940’s, Midsummer dance was held on the Fiskars marketplace, because a prison camp was built in Baklura for Russian prisoners of war (though the prison camp was never used).

A three day holiday was truly luxury in the lives of the worker of the Ironworks, who were used to a six-day workweek. A holiday that long seems to have been quite rare, despite it being Midsummer, since folk memory in Fiskars tells of it being exceptional in other municipalities, and of confusion in workers serving in Helsinki, for example, whose Midsummer holidays went shorter than they were used to. The owner of the Ironworks showed consideration for his workers in other ways as well during Midsummer. I addition to serving coffee at the Kivimuuri, he also took part in Midsummer dances, and the otherwise very strict class separation was forgotten. The owner danced with every woman in his employ, and his wife, in turn, made sure no working man went without dancing with her. Behaviour like this could hardly have been tolerated in everyday life.

A grand maypole decorated the venue, and people danced around it. A maypole is an essential part of Midsummer celebrations in Sweden, and in Finland, it is part of the Finnish Swedish Midsummer traditions. The built and decoration of the maypoles varied between different municipalities. The unique, typical decoration of the Fiskars maypole was probably brought there by the Swedish smiths who moved there. The pole had nine rings, which grew bigger from up to down, and both the pole and the rings were decorated with lily of the valleys. There was a sun in the midsection of the pole, and a flag and a crown at the top. Under the flag and the crown there was a figure of an old man with moving arms and legs. Apparently there haven’t been similarly decorated maypoles elsewhere in Finland, and none of its features are typical here. The open-air museum in Skansen, Stockholm, however, has had a very similar maypole. This supports the theory that the style of decoration indeed comes from Sweden.

Sources and literature:

Kustaa Vilkuna – Vuotuinen Ajantieto s.
Minnen från Fiskars
Kotiseutumme Fiskars