• Sweden edition
 
Midsummer
The Lowdown on Swedish Midsummer

The Lowdown on Swedish Midsummer

Published: 19 Jun 2014 09:39 GMT+02:00
Updated: 19 Jun 2014 09:39 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.

Ah, perhaps you've gleaned your knowledge of Swedish Midsummer from the famous 'banned' German Ikea advert from a few years ago (it was reportedly spiked by Ikea head office, but it has remained on YouTube - see below).

Well, most real-life Midsummer parties are a lot more civilised than that, but like all good parodies, the advert contains a kernel of truth. In real-life, they vary from the respectable and sober to the downright bawdy.

Still, 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.

IN PICTURES: Top ten odd Swedish Midsummer traditions

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.


C
lick here for more scenes from a Swedish Midsummer table

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'.

RELATED ARTICLE: Ten things to hate about Swedish Midsummer

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.


S
ee gravad lax and more strange Swedish summer concoctions here

What should I wear to this 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.

That famous Ikea ad:

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Sweden slammed for racism report omissions

Sweden slammed for racism report omissions

The Swedish government has been criticized by a slew of organisations for omitting a series of notorious cases of discrimination and a general lack of self-criticism in its report to the UN Human Rights Council. READ  

Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

935
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
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:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN