A short course in American Midsummer (especially for Finns)!

This weekend Blacksburg, Virginia made a little American attempt at a big Finnish celebration

When I lived in Finland, this particular weekend was always a big deal.  This is the celebration of Midsummer, or Juhannus. 

Everyone took a holiday.  There were bonfires around the country. And, per usual, the Finns got roaring drunk.

It was this last aspect that made my family dread Midsummer.  It was just another holiday for the inebriated.

We didn’t really have the ability to do the Finnish thing, to go off to the summer cottage, or take the boat out on the lake.  We just stayed at home.

The one Juhannus I thought would be different turned out to be a disappointment.  We were invited to the home of some friends on the coast. My family had gone early and I intended to join them. However, we got the actual date of the holiday wrong and when I tried to catch a long distance bus, there were none. In fact, there were no trains either. I had tried to travel on the holiday itself. I ended up walking a couple miles home and stayed there alone for the weekend.

This weekend the locals here in Southwest Virginia threw a  celebration of their own, a  “Summer Solstice” festival in Blacksburg’s downtown.

Some local kids fly high at the Summer Solstice Festival

I decided to walk over there and see what the American version of this occasion looked like.  I took my son and my cheap digitial Kodak with me.

You can't get any more American than the Hula Hoop

Frankly, it was a little hokey, which is ironic because the local university uses a homonym as its nickname.  But it was still fun to view.

It was a celebration in American capitalism, combined with a carnival atmosphere. Plenty of local merchants were there, hawking there wares.  For example, Hokie Spokes, the local bicycle store my wife favors, had a booth. 

Blacksburg's Summer Solstice Festival was part carnival

Cotton candy is a tradition at American carnivals


For two dollars a throw, you could try and dunk this man in a water tank

I had been at the Starbucks in town Saturday morning and  had to get my car out of there parking lot by noon to make room for the festival. I wondered what they were going to put there.  It turns out this lot was the home of the tent housing the picnic area and the music stage. When I came by in the afternoon, there was a steel drum band there.

A steel band performs at the Summer Solstice Festival

American creativity and tackiness were combined in the “beach” created in the parking lot of Cabo Fish Taco, a Mexican restaurant.  Somehow, despite its inability to replicate a true sand and surf atmposphere, it added to the ambience.

Blacksburg's "beach"

The one thing I am surprised I didn’t see was some local politician making the rounds. I suppose they didn’t show up because there aren’t any elections on the horizon.

Walking to and from the festival this weekend was a reminder of the successes and failures of the local politicos.  On the one hand, they have done well in creating an architecturally attractive downtown and engaging in “smart growth”. 

Kent Square is an example of Blacksburg's efforts at "smart growth". It includes condos for those able to afford them.

This building was once a car dealership, gas station and car repair shop. It has historical significance for Blacksburg, It has has been renovated and now houses town government offices.

On the other hand, passing by the old and empty middle school, I mused that this building could have been put to better use. Currently the high schoolers and middle school kids use the new middle school building because Blacksburg High School’s gym collapsed last winter and the whole building is unusable. The school board still doesn’t know what to do about this situation.

The old Blacksburg Middle School now sits empty and unused.

If the old middle school hadn’t been such a political football over the years, perhaps it could have been part of the solution.  However, it stands empty and uninhabitable.

It's a shame the old school couldn't be used for high schoolers needing a place to go

Blacksburg’s my home and workplace now, and I’m glad I had a chance to view their Summer Solstice festival. It gave me some insight into the community. In addition, I have to say I had more fun there than I had in Finland on Juhannus.

The author proudly sports his Finnish Karelian Coat of Arms cap at the Blacksburg Summer Solstice Festival



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2 responses to “A short course in American Midsummer (especially for Finns)!

  1. Good support of the Karelian side of Suomi-can we get a elovakuva of you also holding and eating a Karelian piraeka?….did you see any burning boats this Johannus Autton in any lakes around there?

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