In America, our summers are filled with beach trips, boating, and tons of other activities on or near the water. It’s all about working hard during the week so that we can enjoy long summer weekends outdoors with our friends and family. However, the Swedes celebrate their warm weather season a bit differently.
The celebration of Midsummer has been going on in Sweden for hundreds of years, with the earliest recorded celebration in the 13th century. Before the 1950’s it was celebrated at the high point of summer in June, the longest cycle of day for the region. It wasn’t until 1952 that the Swedish parliament declared the third Friday in June as the official holiday date. This celebration also occurs soon after the start of Sweden’s five-week annual summer vacation (wouldn’t that be nice!) which gives everyone time to prepare & enjoy the festivities. With the countryside in full bloom and large gatherings taking place to celebrate the beauty of nature & the warmth of the sun it is no wonder Midsummer Eve is such a big deal.
Many families begin the day by picking fresh flowers and making wreaths to place on the maypole. The maypole itself is raised up at a central location in or near the town and is decorated with the flowers of each family or invited guests. Traditional songs and ring dances like the ‘Små Grodorna’ (frog dance) are performed.
Midsummer is rich with tradition, and this includes the typical Midsummer menu. Depending on the region many delicious foods & desserts accompany the smorgasbord. Some items one might find at the feast are pickled herring (a Swedish favorite), boiled potatoes topped with dill, red onion, sour cream and chives, grilled or smoked salmon or ribs, cheese pies, crisp bread with butter and possibly fresh strawberries with cream are served as dessert. With a celebration like this of course there’s a bit of drinking. A type of schnapps called brännvin is served before and along-side the feast. Some regional traditions also state when an empty glass is refilled a drinking song must commence.
Of course, a centuries old tradition wouldn’t be complete without a bit of superstition. Legend says that young women are to pick seven different types of flowers on their way home and lay them under their pillows. That night, their future husbands will appear to them as they dream. Weddings are also quite popular this time of year in Sweden as the sun is out and the flora have bloomed.
The Swedish Midsummer celebration was originally celebrated as a summer solstice confirming that the harvest has been planted and to goad Mother Nature into providing a bountiful outcome. Now it is a time to celebrate growth, new life, and the beauty of nature. It is a chance for generations of Swedes to gather together and celebrate their common heritage. So this summer, while you are out enjoying the warm sand and refreshing waters of the USA, take a moment to think about your own roots and celebrate the seasons as your ancestors did.