Midsummer’s Eve or Midsommarafton as we Swedes call it is an important day of the year and it always fall on the Friday between 19 and 26 June. If the Norwegians have 17 May, their National Day, as a huge festive celebration then Midsummer is the Swedish equivalence. It’s more of a National Day to us than 6 June is.
My favourite Midsummers are spent with friends somewhere in the archipelago in someone’s summer cottage or maybe on a boat, eating matjes herring fillets with new potatoes, sour creme and chives, eating strawberries with whipped cream, drinking rosé wine and maybe a schnapps or two, playing games and maybe even dancing around the maypole, perhaps swimming in the ocean (if it’s not to freezing cold) and just relaxing.(New potatoes by the way if you don’t know what it is are not a separate variety of potato, but younger versions of other varieties. The skin is generally thinner and flakier than the skin found on older potatoes. For this reason, new potatoes are rarely if ever peeled before cooking.)
Many children and a lot of adults too wear a wreath of flowers (midsommarkrans) on their heads on this day, either bought or home made. It’s also a tradition to dance around the maypole and for some reason it makes total sense to pretend you’re a frog and a pig while doing it, in a dance known as the frog dance (Små grodorna). And yes, it looks as silly to us Swedes as it does to foreigners.
Most offical Midsummer celebrations also have folk dancers performing traditional Swedish dances dressed in folk costumes. Every part of Sweden has its own costume and I’ll let you in on a secret…I used to dance folk dance for about 12 years and actually own my own costume.
I’m lucky and have Friday off work and since I missed out last year, being in Australia, I plan on enjoying it even more this year and it looks like I’ll be spending it together with friends on Tjärö in the archipelago of Blekinge. It’s a bummer Simon is missing out this year, we just have to make up for it next year.
To give you an idea what it’s all about here are some photos from past Midsummer celebrations of mine.
Sweden.se about Swedish Midsummer celebration
Summer in Sweden is short (though I refuse to admit that). It starts showing its face in May and explodes into life in June. The summer has to hurry to get things done before the nights turn cold in September and everything stops growing. At Midsummer, the Swedish summer is a lush green and bursting with chlorophyll, and the nights are scarcely dark at all. In the north, the sun never sets.
Swedes are fairly well attuned to the rhythms of nature. At Midsummer, many begin their five-week annual holidays and they, too, are in a hurry to get things done. Midsummer Eve is celebrated in the countryside — as always — and on the day before, everyone leaves town, everything closes and the streets are suddenly spookily deserted.
Midsummer is an occasion of large gatherings — and to be honest, many Swedes take advantage of it to fulfil their social obligations so that they can enjoy the rest of their holiday in peace. In many cases, whole families gather to celebrate this traditional high-point of the summer.
Swedes like the world to be well-ordered, so Midsummer Eve is always a Friday. People often begin the day by picking flowers and making wreaths to place on the maypole, which is a key component in the celebrations.
The maypole is raised in an open spot and traditional ring-dances ensue, to the delight of the children and some of the adults. Teenagers tend to stay out of it and wait for the evening’s more riotous entertainment.
A typical Midsummer menu features different kinds of pickled herring, boiled new potatoes with fresh dill, soured cream and raw red onion. This is often followed by a grilled dish of some kind, such as spare rib or salmon, and for dessert the first strawberries of summer, with cream.
The traditional accompaniment is a cold beer and schnapps, preferably spiced. Every time the glasses are refilled, singing breaks out anew. Swedes like drinking songs, and the racier the better.
On their way home, girls and young women are supposed to pick seven different species of flowers and lay them under their pillows. At night, their future husbands appear to them in a dream.
Legend has it that the night before Midsummer’s Day is a magical time for love. It still is, in a way. During this night many a relationship is put to the test. Under the influence of alcohol, the truth will come out, which can lead both to marriage and to divorce.
Like Whitsun (Pingst), Midsummer is a popular time of the year for weddings and christening ceremonies. Despite their poor showing as churchgoers, Swedes still like to wed in a country church with a flower-bedecked, arched entrance and beautiful hymns.
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