It’s party time in the Nordic countries, with two holidays at this time of the year that are celebrated much more thoroughly in Scandinavia than they are in the UK. The first is just behind us and the second is not far ahead.

Walpurgis Night is a traditional holiday celebrated on 30th April in the Nordic countries. While not celebrated as such in the UK, it falls at the same time and involves many of the same activities – singing traditional folk songs, lighting bonfires – as Beltane, which is still widely celebrated in Scotland and Ireland. It is a public rather than a family holiday and often involves entire communities coming together to celebrate. In the Middle Ages it marked the end of the administrative year and gave merchants a chance to relax and look forward to a new year. Now, students in particular latch on to it as a means of celebrating the end of their exams, coming together to sing, drink and make merry. More enterprising universities also arrange events such as river rafting, champagne fights – in Uppsala, where else? – and parades. In Finland, Walpurgis Night is one of the four biggest holidays, and most towns and cities have carnivals where the consumption of large volumes of sima, a kind of mead, and other alcoholic drinks is a prominent feature. Other activities include crowning statues across the country with student caps and lavish picnics the following day.

Midsummer is celebrated on or around 23 June in the Nordic countries. Conversely, this holiday is largely overlooked in the UK except among the Pagan community, although traditional Midsummer bonfires are still lit atop a number of hills throughout the country. In Scandinavia, Midsummer has been celebrated since the time of the Vikings, with popular activities including building bonfires close to bodies of water (since in the past people would traditionally visit healing water wells on this night), erecting and dancing around maypoles, singing and having picnics. This holiday is considered to be of particular importance in Sweden, where there have been discussions of making it the country’s new National Day. More country-specific methods of celebrating Midsummer include a Danish tradition of burning a witch made out of straw and cloth to commemorate witches burned in the Middle Ages – not unlike the British tradition of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes on 5 November – and a Norwegian tradition of arranging mock weddings between both adults and children. The latter may be connected to the fact that this day was once considered an important night for fertility rituals across much of northern Europe, and indeed, the tradition of young women sleeping with flowers under their pillows at Midsummer to induce dreams of their future husbands is still prevalent across the entire Nordic region.

Icebreaker, Icebreaker May 2014, Nordic culture