Community in Toivola celebrates the annual Juhannus

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TOIVOLA, Mich. (WLUC) - In Toivola, the celebration of Juhannus has been a tradition for more than 100 years.

The Juhannus celebration started around the 1890s when immigrants from Finland settled in the Toivola area.

"This was a very Finnish community, and one of the very Finnish things they did was celebrate midsummer. It was a mix of religious activities, midsummer is St. John's Day, and as a way of celebrating the summer solstice it was the longest day of the year," said Jim Kurtti, the Director of the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University.

The celebration brings the community together and brings in guests from all over, including some who came all the way from Finland to partake in the festivities.

"The people of Toivola look forward to this every year, it brings in people who have moved away and it's a chance to come back and see everybody and celebrate and enjoy the coming summer," Said Joanna Chopp, a lifelong Toivola resident.

Some of the traditional festivities include dancing and listening to traditional Finnish music, making flower headbands, and making homemade squeaky cheese.

"This is a very significant cultural marker for Upper Peninsula Finns. Even in the days of declining dairy cattle throughout our country side people tried to make this cheese. It's a very mild cheese that you eat with coffee rather than with wine," said Kurtti.

The celebration is deeply rooted in the Toivola community, with some who have been a part of the event for their entire lives.

"I grew up here, I've come to Juhannus for as long as I can remember and I'm in my thirties," said Chop.

The Juhannus festivities in Toivola concluded on the shore of Lake Superior at Agate Beach.

The event traditionally ends with the lighting of a large bonfire called the Kokko. The entire community joins in to watch the fire commence, and the building and igniting of the bonfire is handled by the Toivola Fire Department.

The bonfire is one of the biggest attractions of the celebration.

“The big event is the bonfire, the Juhannus Kokko, which is lit on the beach of Lake Superior. It's meant to herald the coming light, and the longest day of the year, and that the days are getting longer. It's a chance to celebrate," said Chopp.

With the community behind it Juhannus will continue on in Toivola for the foreseeable future.

"I plan to do this forever, my kids are here, my parents are here, and it's fun for everybody," added Chopp.

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