• Sweden's news in English
 

The Lowdown on Swedish Midsummer

Published: 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
Spring boost for Swedish economy revealed
Shoppers in Stockholm. Photo: Simon Paulin/TT

Spring boost for Swedish economy revealed

Sweden's economy grew by 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2015, and was up 2.5 percent on the same period a year ago, according to figures released on Friday. But Swedes still appear to be holding back from swiping their cards at the nation's tills. READ  

Swedish dads set to get more paternity leave
A Swedish Dad teaching his child to recycle. Photo: Cecilia Larsson/Image Bank Sweden

Swedish dads set to get more paternity leave

The Swedish government plans to introduce a third month of paid parental leave reserved for fathers as of next year in a bid to further increase gender equality. READ  

Royal Wedding
Six facts about Europe's hottest power couple
Sofia Hellqvist and Prince Carl Philip announcing their engagement in 2014. Photo: TT

Six facts about Europe's hottest power couple

Move over William and Kate, Sweden's Prince Carl Philip and fiancée Sofia Hellqvist are causing an international stir ahead of their upcoming wedding with one Australian paper even calling them 'Europe's coolest couple'. Here are six facts you need to learn about these rocking royals. READ  

Real-life police drama on Sweden's 'The Bridge'
The Öresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Real-life police drama on Sweden's 'The Bridge'

Something resembling an episode of the popular gritty crime drama 'The Bridge' (Bron) occurred on Thursday night when Swedish and Danish police engaged in a car chase that ended with the arrest of four men. READ  

Swedish firm wins huge New York airport bid
Travellers at New York's LaGuardia Airport in January 2015. Photo: TT

Swedish firm wins huge New York airport bid

A consortium led by Swedish construction company Skanska has been picked for a $3.6 billion (30.5 billion kronor) project to modernize New York's LaGuardia Airport, regional transport officials have announced. READ  

The Local Recipes
How to make Swedish strawberry cordial
Strawberry cordial is a refreshing summer drink. Photo: John Duxbury

How to make Swedish strawberry cordial

Swedes love berries and enjoy putting them in both chilled cordials as well as hot drinks during winter. Here, food writer John Duxbury shares his favourite recipe for a raw strawberry squash (rårörd jordgubbssaft) that's delicious year-round but perfect for Swedish summer time. READ  

Swedish city apartment buyers in 'trouble' zone
Apartment blocks in Gothenburg: Photo: Simon Paulin/Image Bank Sweden

Swedish city apartment buyers in 'trouble' zone

One of Sweden's biggest banks has warned that too many potential buyers in Gothenburg and Stockholm are set to spend more than 30 percent of their disposable income on monthly mortgage payments and related costs, putting them in danger of potential financial problems in future. READ  

US rapper Wyclef Jean: 'I want to move to Sweden'
US-Haitian rap artist Wyclef Jean. Photo: AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron

US rapper Wyclef Jean: 'I want to move to Sweden'

A small Swedish town two hours north of Stockholm could get an unexpected celebrity resident. Rap star Wyclef Jean fell in love with Sandviken after a gig there two years ago and has now told a Swedish tabloid that he is planning a move to the town in the next couple of years. READ  

The Local List
Five reasons Sandviken could really suit Wyclef
Sandviken railway station. Photo: Tanzania/Wikipedia

Five reasons Sandviken could really suit Wyclef

Former Fugees star Wyclef Jean stirred up a right debate in Sweden on Thursday when he said he was planning a move to the small town of Sandviken, two hours north of the capital. But we're not ones to judge, so we've put together this list of five reasons why the rapper might be such a big fan of this rural town. READ  

The Local List
Five questions before buying a Sweden home
Here's what you need to know before buying a home in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/SCANPIX

Five questions before buying a Sweden home

The Swedish financial watchdog recently scrapped plans for new mortgage rules, meaning you can still buy a home in Sweden and never pay off the full loan. Here's The Local's guide to the five main things you need to know before taking your first step on to the property ladder in the Nordic country. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Five unmissable events in Sweden
Business & Money
Sweden drops in leading global business rankings
National
Royal princess couple to quit Stockholm for UK
Business & Money
What to ask before buying your first home in Sweden
Sponsored Article
'No one tells expats about unemployment benefits'
Blog updates

26 May

Vet, kan, känner eller känner till? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! It happens every now and then that my students mix up the words “vet”, “kan”, “känner”..." READ »

 

24 May

 (Joel Sherwood) »

"Real American men don’t watch Eurovision. New video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQk5dUhGt-w ..." READ »

 
 
 
Gallery
IN PICTURES: People-watching: May 17th
Bupa
Sponsored Article
Healthcare: Nine questions every expat should ask
Sport
Fake quotes in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Swedish memoirs
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Your May sun snaps
Sponsored Article
Why expat women are choosing Swedish natural birth control
Education
Does Sweden mark down foreigners' children?
Sponsored Article
What it's like to be a student in Malmö
National
Russian veterans' Nazi attack on Ikea
Gallery
Property of the week: Lugnvik, Östersund
National
Avicii confirms royal wedding DJ gig
Sponsored Article
Kristin Amparo: 'Swedes are afraid to be proud'
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Eurovision winner Måns Zelmerlöw through the years
Gallery
People-watching: May 22nd-23rd
National
Why are Sweden's beaches among the worst in Europe?
National
VIDEO: Can you get your tongue around Sweden's word for 'nurse'?
National
How two million Swedes are designing a 'house of clicks'
National
What's on in Sweden this week
National
Five facts you need to know about Sweden's Eurovision entry
National
Why do one in three Swedes want to join Nato?
Features
What to do in Stockholm this summer
Gallery
People-watching: May 20th
National
How Sweden and Saudi Arabia got back on speaking term after row
Gallery
Property of the week: Västra hamnen, Malmö
Sponsored Article
'There is no such thing as Swedish values'
National
Why is support for the Sweden Democrats at a record high?
Sponsored Article
ConnectSweden: Examining Sweden's place in the world
Gallery
People-watching: May 15th - 17th
National
VIDEO: Swedish man's roar scares off charging bear
National
'Gang conflict' linked to latest Gothenburg attack
National
RECIPE: How to make Panna cotta with cloudberry jam
Sponsored Article
'Educated immigrants get stuck in limbo in Sweden'
National
Sweden backs migrant sharing plan
National
Swedish boozing on the rise
National
Why Sweden's deputy PM was forced to apologize for Auschwitz analogy
National
End of the road for Julian Assange's arrest appeal?
Features
Booked to go to one of Sweden's sizzling music festivals yet?
National
Meet the Swedish boy who used to be a girl
Sponsored Article
How to change the world: Malmö to Mogadishu
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Princess Estelle through the years
National
Why is obesity ballooning in Sweden?
National
VIDEO: The bizarre Swedish nurses song that's gone viral
National
Ecuador stray dog Arthur in Swedish charity race
National
UK expert: 'Sweden's current military state is alarming'
National
Elfdalian: a real language spoken in central Sweden in 2015
National
Is King's love for house tracks behind new military music?
Gallery
Property of the week: Hjortnäs, Leksand
National
Sex-crazed grouse terrorizes Swedes
Sponsored Article
'Never waste a good crisis'
Sponsored Article
'Impossible' to run Skanska without Bromma Airport
Sponsored Article
Want to study in Sweden? Read why Stockholm is the best choice
Sponsored Article
'Sweden must embrace openness and diversity'
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

3,260
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