The summer solstice is the reason why we celebrate Midsummer. Ever since pagan times, Swedes have been eager to feast through the longest day of the year, on or around June 21. Since the 1950s we have, for practical reasons, celebrated Midsummer on Midsummer Eve, which is always on a Friday between June 19 and June 25.
Midsummer girl. Photo: Elisabet Zeilon/Johnér/Image Bank Sweden
If you want solitude on Midsummer, stay in the city. This weekend there is an exodus from the cities to the country, where revelers meet up with friends and family.
A few more or less compulsory rituals precede the midsummer meal:
Picking wild flowers — both for the wreath that you will be wearing on your head and for the maypole, or rather, midsummer pole.
Dressing the midsummer pole in leaves and flowers. Raising the midsummer pole somewhere convenient, where there is dancing space around it.
Time for lunch! Typically, a table is set outside, decorated with a nice cloth and maybe some flowers left over from the wreath and pole. Normally, the same table will have to be moved inside due to sudden rain showers. We often joke that Midsummer is cursed, because it is quite often accompanied by damp and fairly cold weather. Of course, the more experienced hostesses and hosts don’t take any chances; they set up a tent in advance, and ask their guests to wear something warm.
The food on the table is fairly basic: different varieties of pickled herring, new potatoes with dill and sour cream. Fresh strawberries with whipped cream or strawberry cake often follow. Most adults like to wash down the herring with schnapps (a shot of alcohol), usually preceded by a short, often quite silly schnapps song, of which there are plenty, passed on from generation to generation. The Swedish schnapps is distilled from grain or potato and is often flavored, but never sweet.
When people are fed and happy, the dancing can begin. Adults and children alike form a circle around the midsummer pole and dance to traditional songs. The actual dancing is more or less a matter of moving in one direction, so not too complicated. Many towns and villages arrange public midsummer dancing, where a group of folk musicians accompany the dancing crowd.
As it never really gets dark on Midsummer, the party can go on for hours on end. Eventually, the mist starts dancing across the fields, and it may, after all, be time for bed.
Rikard Lagerberg & Emma Randecker
Rikard Lagerberg is a writer and editor who has spent most of his adult life in the US and on Ireland. Returning to Sweden he discovered a new curiosity for his native country. Editor and writer Emma Randecker spent most of her life in Sweden, apart from a couple of longer excursions to France and the UK. It was, in particular, a longing for the changing Swedish seasons that made her go back home after a few years. Both Rikard and Emma work at the Swedish Institute.
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