With social distancing enforced, Midsummer celebrations will look very different this year. Sweden and Norway have both had to drastically alter their national days, but the festivals were not altogether cancelled…
On 17th May, Norwegians celebrated National Day. With parades cancelled, they celebrated this year at home, dressing up in national costume, waving flags from their windows and parading in boats. The royal family, who most years wave to over 100,000 people from their palace balcony, waved instead to people on theirs, touring Oslo in open-topped cars. This month – on 6th June – Sweden sees its national day changed too. The annual Skansen concert will still be broadcast, though royalty and guests will not be in attendance. Mass celebrations are on hold. National days are cancelled. But, luckily for Swedes, there’s one festival that can still go ahead.
Midsummer is Sweden’s Thanksgiving. Second in scale only to Christmas, on 20th June the cities empty as residents decamp to the country. They light bonfires, join hands round a maypole, slurp aquavit and beer, and dive into herring and wild strawberries. It’s the shortest night of the year but, as verb dictates, “it sets many cradles to rock”. It’s a festival of fertility – even the maypole has a phallic connotation – and there’ll be a massive baby boom come March. Girls eat salted porridge (in the hope their future husband brings water in the night). Others place seven flowers under their pillow, their beauty attracting men from far and wide. And for those who were successful last year, it’s time to head to church and tie the knot.
With social distancing enforced, Midsummer is this year a celebration altered, though not cancelled. Neighbours cannot join hands, but close families can still gather and, in-line with new rules, domestic travel and overnight stays make weekend at the summerhouse attainable. Indeed, Midsummer 2020 should become a more colourful celebration than ever. Sweden has suffered badly. There’s no escaping the mood will be strange. But that doesn’t mean events be sombre. For, sad as it is the elderly will miss out, Swedes must make sure the summer songs reach them. It is up to younger generations to sing louder than ever.
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This article has also been published in Scan Magazine.