The St. Hans celebrations have roots across northern Europe, and were also brought to Canada with the first French colonialists. In Canada, the celebration is called Saint-Jean-Baptist Day or Quebec National Holiday. The celebrations take on somewhat different forms in the different countries, but the origins are much the same. St. Hans is a Christian holiday to honor Saint John the Baptist (also called Saint Hans). The day of celebration was set to June 24 to outdo the pagan celebrations of midsummer or summer solstice. However, it is the celebration of summer, sun, and light that has survived in countries such as Norway. In Norway, celebrations take place the evening before June 24. Aften, as in St. Hansaften, means evening.
The tradition of lighting bonfires on this occasion came from the pagan belief in fire as the protector against evil spirits. The sun, which in the Northern hemisphere is at its highest at midsummer, probably inspired this belief. The night of St. Hans was supposedly a night of magic. If, for instance, a young girl picked seven flowers and put them under her pillow, she would dream of her future husband.
As on any day of celebration, food is important on St. Hansaften. When asked what she associates with St. Hansaften, Ingeborg Nygaard, the chef at the Norwegian Embassy, said: “bonfire, rømmegrøt (sour cream porridge), cured ham, barbeque, midsummer, sun, family, friends, children, and my childhood. On St. Hansaften I get together with my family and friends and go to a field to make a bonfire. We bring sour cream porridge, cured ham, barbeque food like sausages, and just have a good time for as long as we can stay awake. It is all about celebrating summer with the people you love the most. When I was little I was very superstitious. I made sure to jump seven fences and pick seven different flowers, put them under my pillow, and try hard to dream about a boy I liked.”
“Why we eat sour cream porridge on this day? Well, it is a tradition. Eating sour cream porridge on special holidays is a strong tradition in Norway, and St. Hans is a special holiday. Sour cream porridge is a tradition that goes far, far back in time. It is such a simple and timeless recipe,” she said.
Photo: courtesy of Tine (www.jarlsberg.com)
Rømmegrøt (Sour Cream Porridge)
Often served with cured meats and flatbrød (crisp bread)
This recipe serves 4
1 pint thick sour cream
12 tablespoons flour
1 pint milk
1. Boil the sour cream, covered, for 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir carefully to bring the butter to the surface. Skim it off, reserve it and keep it warm.
2. Stir in the rest of the flour and add the milk. Simmer the porridge for 5-6 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
If one prefers a slightly tangy sour flavor, half of the milk added may be sour milk or kefir.
Sour cream porridge is eaten sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and with the reserved warm melted butter. Some people also like to add raisins on top, as pictured above. Red juice, such as raspberry or currant, is usually served with the porridge.