Hans-down, the best night by the fire ever
In Danish days gone by, Midsummer Night was a magical evening steeped in mystic pagan ritual. Herbs infused with healing powers were collected by wise druids, pilgrimages made to revitalising water wells, and blazing bonfires lit to ward away any malingering malevolent spirits. It was a festival of song, dance and celebration. At least that is how things were until the Christian missionaries reached the shores of
Denmark and instilled a bit of order into the unbearably heathen proceedings.
According to the bible, John the Baptist has his birthday six months before Jesus, so it was a piece of cake to reinvent the summer solstice into the new and improved holiday day of St Hans (the Danish name for John the Baptist.) June 23 is now one of the most popular and unmissable Danish celebrations.
All over Denmark, people come together in communal celebration, typically on beaches, but also in and around towns. The traditional evening consists of mass picnicking, a spirited St Hans speech, a roaring bonfire and the proud singing of the song ‘Vi elsker vort land’ (We love our country), which may bring a tear or two to the eye. The bonfire itself is a pagan tradition, with the symbolic effigy of a witch perched precariously on top. While the flames are banishing evil spirits to the mountains of Bloksbjerg in Germany, the mystical healing powers of alcohol are probably put to the test by some!
Here are some places where you can experience the wonderful atmosphere of Denmark’s cosiest holiday for free:
By the water
Down by the water at Islands Brygge is fast becoming the trendy place to be. St Hans kicks off at 18:00 with activities in the playground and circus entertainment from Multicirkus. A concert at 20:00 by Lima Lima follows. The bonfire is lit at 21:15. The concert by the eclectic band Danjal at 21:45 is sure to round off the evening in style.
Islands Brygge, Cph S; 18:00-23:45
Back in time
Head back in time to the early 1800s rustic setting of Ballerup Museum, and its impressively maintained grocer’s store and cottage. The bonfire will be lit at 21:00, preceded by the blowing of the Bronze Age lure, an ancient and somewhat peculiar Danish wind instrument.
Ballerup Museum, Pederstrupvej 51-53, Ballerup; 19:00-22:00
In a park
Fun and games for the whole family, including a bouncy castle and pancake making courtesy of the local scouts. The bonfire will be lit at 19:45. The event is partly organised by the Social Democrats and you can chat with their candidates for the coming council elections.
Kildevældsparken, Cph Ø; 16:00-21:30
In the gardens
Frederiksberg Have is always an extremely popular location for St Hans, where people enjoy en masse picnicking and red wine by the water in the company of the finest Frederiksberg families. Søs Fenger is singing this year at 20:00, so get there early for a good place
Frederiksberg Have, 19:00-22:00
At the church
Many churches have a St Hans do. Why not take a trip to the serene setting of Jesuskirken in Valby for the traditional picnic, speech and bonfire?
Jesuskirken, Skovbogårds Allé 11, Valby, 18:00-22:30
In the park
St Hans takes place in and around the Café Pavillonen area in the park, where you can buy food, ice cream and drinks. The bonfire is lit at 22:00 and there is live music all evening from a jukebox band with a huge repertoire, The Executives.
Fælledparken, Øster Allé, Cph Ø; 18:00-23:00
In the square
Downtown Nørrebro hosts this annual event, kicking off at 16:00 with entertainment for the kids, followed by music from MODSPIL and Zaki. From 17:30, you can grill your own food, be it halal or vegetarian. There’s a speech at 21:00, the bonfire is lit at 21:15 and DJ sets round off a busy evening.
Blågårds Plads, Cph N; music from 16:00-23:45
In the hub
Very few places beat the atmosphere of Nyhavn on a summer’s day. You can celebrate from the early afternoon by the waterside to the summery sounds of jazz. The bonfire on the water will be lit at 22:00. Make sure you get there in good time
Nyhavn, Nyhavn 1051, Cph K; 14:00-24:00
On the beach
The artificial sands of Amager’s premier beach provide the perfect setting for no less than four St Hans celebrations. There are events hosted by three different political parties: Conservative, Communist and Social Democrats. However one suspects that the most fun will be had around the LGBT community bonfire with DJs and drinks from 16:00 until 23:00, and a bonfire that will be lit at 20:15.
Amager Strand, Cph S; 16:00-24:00
Sankt Hans Aften
Various locations in Greater Cph; Sunday 14:00-late