Once reserved for the young and mill workers, Midsummer is today one of Sweden’s largest festivals, challenging even Christmas in its scale. It is the only day of the year when Swedes can let their hair down and indulge in some bizarre traditions with friends, family and neighbours…
Now a celebration of holidays, Midsummer celebrations were traditionally held to welcome a season of fertility. Today, Midsummer is a festival so large it rivals Christmas. The streets of Stockholm fall silent for three days as residents flee to their summer houses with friends and family.
In 1952 the Swedish Parliament decided that Midsummer should always be celebrated at a weekend. As a result, its observance now varies between the 20th and 26th June (this year the 24th June). As the lightest day of the year, it has long been considered a magical night. According to Swedish verse, “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles to rock”. So it is not surprising most Swedes are conceived during the Midsummer festivities. Girls eat salted porridge so their future husbands can bring water to them in their dreams.
A typical Midsummer menu features an array of pickled herring, boiled potatoes, salmon and wild strawberries, washed down with a cold beer and schnapps (preferably spiced and always accompanied by songs). After dinner the dancing begins, usually around a maypole or majstång. Maypoles came to Sweden via Germany in the late Middle Ages, where the pole was decorated with leaves and raised on 1st May. Since spring comes later to Sweden it was hard to find the greenery to decorate the pole, so the tradition was moved to Midsummer, where it forms the centrepiece of celebrations.
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This article has also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.