Postcards from the Arctic: Finnish Summer Festivals

Postcards from the Arctic: Finnish Summer Festivals Loading

“I love summer in Finland. Last year, it was on a Tuesday!” OK done, the Facebooked-to-death joke is now out of the way. The Finnish summer is much awaited, just like how we count the days to the monsoon (er… maybe not the flooding) or winters (mild as we have them) to get some respite from the heat. Just as a temperature between 20 and 22 degrees can be considered winter for us, the same can be considered summer here. Now to the short but busy Finnish summer calendar…

finfest1The summer solstice (mid-summer), a national holiday, marks the beginning of a warm Finnish summer and the atmosphere changes to a festive one. Mid-summer enjoys the longest period of day light and in some parts of northern Finland boasts continuous day light for months together! Mid-summer, known as ‘Juhannus’, is a big holiday in Finland and Finns travel to their lakeside summer cottages (mokki) for quality time with family and friends over some good food, sauna and swims in the lake.  90% of the Finnish people own a summer cottage and a boat (more on the boat and sailing soon), rendering the city virtually empty. The highlight of Juhannus is the bonfire (kokko), which as lore has it, was lit to keep the evil spirits away and ensure a good crop come harvest time (sounds familiar!).  After the burning of the fire at mid-night, the festivities continue to the dance halls with traditional dance music; or for more popular music, to the night clubs. The traditional form of dancing continues, where the women line-up on one side and the men gather their courage to request the women for a dance. I found that particularly nostalgic!finfest4

The Finnish summer calendar is packed with festivals. It literally gives an outsider a feeling that the Finns are out of hibernation. This year come winter, I too will be joining the native bears! But first, here are a couple of festivals I attended this year that are worth a mention. While some of the town festivals were washed out due to the rains, the spirit remains.

finfest5The Kumpula Village Party is a small village festival in the city of Helsinki organized every alternate year. All the stalls are put up by locals raising funds for either the kid’s soccer team or the library, with a long line of flea-market sellers. Even the artists that perform here, even the famous ones, do so for free just to give back to society. The highlight of the festival, for me and most foreigners , was Fredi. Picture this, we had been waiting in the rain and the cold for the final performance of the evening, which is usually a star performer and we are expecting a loud and energetic performance. After waiting for a couple of hours, when  the mid-level performances were done, a huge elderly gentleman, dressed in all black (and strongly reminiscent of “Lurch” from the Addams Family) got onstage with a big, black folder and banged it down hard on the lectern stand (adding to the Addams family drama. I think I even saw dust rise, but it could just be the harsh stage lights) and the unsuspecting foreigners go numb for a while. He sings a couple of old songs and the crowd goes “Is this what we were waiting for?” until Mr. Fredi breaks into “Staying Alive” in Finnish! The crowd goes wild, when they recognize the melody and a Japanese group shouts, “This is our favourite song…. Aah ah ahh ah staying alive, staying alive!” This was followed by ‘Show Must Go On’ by Queen’s. I must confess, when he hit a particular note in this song I was afraid he would give himself a heart attack. It still sounds in my ears! It was amazing and highly dramatic…finfest7

finfest8I have always been fascinated by the bygone English era depicted in novels like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and series such as Downton Abbey. The hairdos, the fashion, the dancing of the classes and I got a firsthand taste of it at the Folk Music Festival of Kaustinen. I heard some amazing fiddlers, bass and cello players accompanied by some angelic singing, and watched enraptured some graceful, energetic and completely mad dancing. Moreover, it was fascinating to notice that the younger generation was more into folk dancing.  There were many amateur groups performing, with ages ranging from 17 to 70. The most famous Finnish musical instrument “Kantele” reminded me of the “Santoor” and one of the musicians even looked like a western version of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. Maybe I am missing home!finfest9

And last but not the least was the Finnish Bhangra Band (you read that right) — Shava. They sang Daler Mehndi’s Bolo Ta Ra Ra and Bally Saghoo’s Gur naal ishq mitha with Finnish lyrics to bhangra beats. This particular festival at which they were to play was a total wash out due to heavy rains, but as true artists they still performed for their fans (not guilty, I was there out of curiosity…haha) who made it there in spite of the weather. To me it was like mini-Woodstock! People dancing in the rain, bare feet, rasta hair and yoga-like psychedelic movements. All things the West fantasized about the East!


finfest11These experiences are just skimming the surface of the Finnish summer which includes the Opera Festival of Savonlinna, Heavy Metal festival of Tuska, Medieval Festival of Turku, Jazz Festival of Porri and FLOW festival in Helsinki; each with a charm of its own, catering to all kinds ofmusic lovers.

Now I understand the reason I am told to remember the light and energies of the summer, it is so that I can hibernate comfortably through the winter!




Tulip is an aspiring photographer (#walkanddiscoverfinland), yoga practitioner and future entrepreneur, with an insatiable appetite for learning and a perpetual WIP. In the process of listing sailing and the finnish language as her superpowers. Currently, a shiny brick in the wall, seeking divine intervention! Tulip has recently married and moved to Helsinki, Finland – Europe.

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