In Denmark, the solstitial celebration is called Sankt Hans aften (“St. John’s Eve”). It was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day where the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people.
It has been celebrated since the times of the Vikings, by visiting healing water wells and making a large bonfire to ward away evil spirits. Today the water well tradition is gone. Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although bonfires are built in many other places where beaches may not be close by (i.e. on the shores of lakes and other waterways, parks, etc.). In the 1920s a tradition of putting a witch made of straw and cloth (probably made by the elder women of the family) on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church’s witch burnings from 1540 to 1693. (Unofficially a witch was lynched as late as 1897.) This burning sends the “witch” away from us, to Bloksbjerg, the mountain ‘Brocken’ in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day.
Holger Drachmann and P.E. Lange-Müller wrote a midsommervise (Midsummer hymn) in 1885 called “Vi elsker vort land…” (“We Love Our Country”) that is sung at every bonfire on this evening.