According to Icelandic folklore, today is the perfect day to strip down to your birthday suit and roll around in dew-covered grass at midnight.
Why, you may ask? Because it’s Jónsmessa, of course. Otherwise known as Midsummer’s Night, Iceland will officially celebrate the day on June 24 – but according to history, the real Jónsmessa is June 21.
Jónsmessa officially marks the summer solstice, or the longest day of the year. And for Iceland, that means the sun isn’t going to set at all.
The term Jónsmessa comes from the birth (and subsequent celebratory mass – ‘messa’) of John the Baptist, which occurs yearly on June 21 despite the official date of June 24. As tradition has it, Icelandic folk are encouraged to roll around naked and “bathe” in dewy grass beneath the midnight sun.
As reported by Iceland Monitor, professor and author Njörður P. Njarðvík posted about the event on Facebook. The translated comment reads: “The true Jónsmessa, or mass of John the Baptist when we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, is today. In the fourth century the birth celebration of Jesus was decided to take place at Winter Solstice and therefore the birth of John the Baptist at summer solstice. This was according to the Julian calendar with the Winter Solstice occuring on December 24th. When the Julian calendar was replaced by the civil calendar in 1584 this was not corrected and therefore the symbolic connection to the sun’s cycle disappeared. It is therefore of no use to bathe oneself in the dew on the eve of June 24th.”
Icelandic folklore encourages the activity for its health benefits, as rolling around in the grass while naked at midnight is apparently great for your wellbeing. Who knew?
There’s a mystical quality to the day too; folklore goes on to suggest that on the very same night, cows gain the ability to talk and seals turn into humans.
In addition – and this is bizarrely specific – if a person sits at a crossroads at which each road leads to a separate church, you’ll be approached by elves, who will try to seduce you with gifts.
That’s a pretty damn incredible piece of folklore.
The summer solstice in Iceland will see the sun setting at 12:03 am and rising again at 2:56 am, meaning the sky will not actually get dark overnight, there’ll just be a couple hours of mystical twilight.