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festival of light

holiday celebrating the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice (June 21). Midsummer's Eve is observed in several countries. It is a national holiday in Sweden and Finland, and the official holiday is typically observed on the third Friday in June to allow a three-day weekend. During this time many Scandinavians travel to rural parts of the country. Midsummer's Eve activities in Sweden include gathering around a flower-festooned maypole (majstang) to sing and dance, an ancient custom probably related to fertility rites. Before the holiday Scandinavians thoroughly clean their houses and decorate them with flowers and other greenery. In Denmark holiday traditions include singing "Vi elsker vort land" ("We Love Our Land") and building a bonfire where a symbolic straw witch is sacrificed in remembrance of church-sanctioned witch burnings in the 16th and 17th centuries. Traditional foods, such as pickled herring, smoked fish, new potatoes, and strawberries, are served, along with beer and schnapps.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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