• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Midsummer
The Local's guide to Midsummer madness
A Swedish midsummer. Photo: Carolina Romare/Image Bank Sweden

The Local's guide to Midsummer madness

James Savage · 5 Jun 2015, 07:39

Published: 05 Jun 2014 07:39 GMT+02:00
Updated: 05 Jun 2015 07:39 GMT+02:00

I've been invited to a Swedish Midsummer party, and frankly, I'm terrified. I've been told it involves eating raw fish, drinking copious amounts of home-made vodka and dancing round a big phallus while I pretend to be a frog. Does it?

Midsummer parties vary from the respectable and sober to the downright bawdy.

Singing, the eating of pickled herrings and the downing of shots of traditional flavoured brännvins are all considered to be good form.

For most Swedes, and most foreigners fortunate enough to experience it, it is simply the best party of the year.

What exactly are we celebrating?

Held on the evening of the Friday between June 19th and 25th, Midsummer marks the the longest day of the year. In Sweden, a country with dark winters and short summers, celebrating the light and the warmth is a natural thing to do.

Strong pagan elements to the festival persist, although their exact links to pre-Christian Sweden are hard to pin down. Pagan societies in northern Europe were known to celebrate summer solstice, but there are no sources to indicate exactly how pagan Midsummer celebrations in Sweden might have looked.

Attempts by the church to adapt the day to the feast of St. John the Baptist never really took off in Sweden, and celebrations retain a reassuringly profane feeling.

Where should I celebrate?

Not in the big cities, anyway. Midsummer is a definite outdoor activity, even if the summer weather traditionally gives way to rain just as Swedes are about to settle down to their smörgåsbord.

Most Swedes would picture a traditional Midsummer party being held in a little red cottage by a lake. If you don't have an invitation to a Midsummer party, many hotels organize celebrations, and the Skansen open air museum in Stockholm also holds events.

Is the maypole really a phallic symbol?

This rather depends on who you ask. Some claim that it actually symbolises an axis linking the world of the living to the underworld and the heavens in Norse mythology. Others, however, suspect that this is just a convenient explanation invented by prudes, and stick to the traditional story that it is a symbol for fertility. Which would explain why Swedish maypoles look so rude.

Maypoles are also common in Germany, Britain and France, and are believed to have been introduced to Sweden by Germans in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Most other countries raise their maypoles in May, but Swedes wait until Midsummer. One explanation for this is that the leaves and flowers needed to decorate the poles aren't made available until June by Sweden's late-arriving summer.

What about this frog dance thing?

Ah yes, the song 'Små Grodorna' is considered to be an important part of the Swedish national folk culture. Partygoers hop around the maypole in the style of frogs, singing the immortal words which translate as: 'Little frogs are funny to look at/ They don't have ears or tails'.

Goodness me, this brännvin must be dangerous stuff?

It certainly has a reputation for removing inhibitions. Sometimes things go a bit too far, and newspapers at Midsummer are guaranteed to contain stories about drunken brawls and worse.

One way to soak up the alcohol is to stock up at the smörgåsbord. This is where the raw fish comes in - the buffet usually includes herrings pickled in various different flavours. It also features smoked salmon, gravadlax, boiled potatoes (served with sour cream and dill), hard-boiled eggs with cod's roe and strawberries - always Swedish, of course. A scrumptious strawberry cream cake might also make an appearance.

Story continues below…

What should I wear to a Midsummer Party?

A garland of flowers is traditional, most commonly for women and children, but sometimes for men too. Some people also wear folk costumes, corresponding to the part of the country they come from. This is very much restricted to the minority these days, however, and most people will turn up in their normal outdoor party gear.

What does folklore say about Midsummer?

There are plenty of myths surrounding the festival. One such myth is that if young people pick flowers at Midsummer they will dream of their future spouse.

On a more sinister note, it is said that people should be careful about swimming, for fear of falling victim to Näcken, the Evil Spirit of the Water. As with most myths, there's something in it, although the name of the evil spirit causing swimmers trouble is far more likely to be O.P. Andersson.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'KKK' flag mishap messes up Statoil’s makeover
Uh oh! New Circle K flags at the Länna service station. Photo: Alexander Lindell/TT

Today’s lesson: Don’t put three K flags in a row.

The Local Music
Eleven fantastic Swedish summer songs for May
Northern Sweden's Goat are one of our picks this month. Photo: Goat Facebook

The Local's music writer, Paul Connolly, offers up the fab fresh Swedish songs to see you through the month.

It's happening! Sweden's bursting into summer
Stockholmers enjoying the sunshine on Thursday. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Sweden's capital is the first spot in the country to formally shake off the spring.

How Sweden is getting to grips with 'sleeping rapists'
Photo: Sandra Qvist/TT

'Sexsomnia' is a relatively new problem for Sweden's courts.

Innocent 'terrorist' shocked by paltry payout from Sweden
Photo: Anders Ahlgren/SvD/TT

A man falsely accused of terrorism has reacted with disbelief at how little Sweden will pay him in compensation.

Now AC Milan's named as option for Sweden's Zlatan
Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing in Paris last month. Photo: Francois Mori/TT

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic could consider a return to AC Milan, according to the Sweden striker's agent.

The Local Recipes
The Swedish strawberry drink that's perfect for summer
Strawberry cordial is a refreshing summer drink. Photo: John Duxbury

The sun's out! Here's our favourite refreshing Swedish drink.

Sweden’s Greens tumble towards open trapdoor
Åsa Romson has had a tough few weeks. Photo: Maja Muslin/TT

A crisis in confidence in Sweden’s Greens has put the junior coalition partner in freefall, a new poll shows.

Swedish city ‘receiving more tips about extremists’
Rosengård in Malmö is a troubled suburb with a reputation for crime and ethnic segregation. Photo: TT

More names of alleged extremist recruiters.

Mona Sahlin quits in bodyguard mortgage fiasco
Mona Sahlin. Photo: TT

UPDATE: Mona Sahlin has stepped down from her position as Sweden's national coordinator against violent extremism, after revelations that she had misrepresented her bodyguard’s salary to help him secure a mortgage.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
National
Can these cartoon Swedes help foreigners blend in?
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
National
Why this fearless woman is the talk of Sweden
International
Eurovision heads to the US (kind of)
Blog updates

5 May

Something to reflect on (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Reflexive verbs and reflexive pronouns In Swedish, and many other languages we find reflexive verbs and…" READ »

 

29 April

Editor’s blog, April 29th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Relations between Sweden and Russia went from slightly strained to full-on James Bond this…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Kista: The best office space in Sweden?
National
Sweden set for sunny weekend
Sponsored Article
'Swedes must realize only soft power can defeat radicalism'
Fastighetsbyrån
Gallery
Property of the week: Vollsjö, Sjöbo
Features
How to be a cool Swede during a hot summer
Gallery
People-watching: April 29th - May 1st
Sponsored Article
How to launch your international career
Analysis & Opinion
Why Sweden's fretting about Brexit
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
National
INTERVIEW: Swedish police officer 'beat me up and used racial slurs'
Gallery
People-watching: April 27th
Sponsored Article
Why international researchers love to call Malmö home
National
Öresund bridge border checks net record number of drink drivers
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
National
Swedes bid farewell to iconic Volvo
Gallery
Property of the week: Enköping
Sponsored Article
‘Life in Stockholm’s suburbs is better than people realize’
Gallery
People-watching: April 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
Politics
Could Brits in Europe stop Brexit?
Sponsored Article
'A sustainable Sweden must embrace diversity'
National
The first official picture of Sweden's new royal Prince Alexander
Sponsored Article
What's the best way for expats to transfer money abroad?
National
Sweden's Sami reindeer still live in the shadow of Chernobyl
Sponsored Article
Sigtunaskolan: 'The best of what Sweden has to offer'
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 20th
Sponsored Article
'I may work at a Swedish company, but we’re global'
National
Why was a Nazi flag hoisted in a Swedish town on Hitler's birthday?
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: Stockholm's secret dating scene
National
How did Sweden's deputy PM get in trouble over New York comments?
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: April 16th-17th
Culture
Sweden finally axes historic dancing ban
International
Have you phoned Sweden yet?
3,298
jobs available
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
psdmedia.se