• 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
Swedish police fear serial rapist on loose in Malmö
The attacker is thought to be in his mid-twenties and had been seen riding his bike in the area prior to the incident. Photo:TT

The rape of a 14-year-old girl in Malmö has led police to conjecture that there may be a serial rapist operating in the southern Swedish city.

Stockholm Pokémon hunter impaled on metal fence spike
Another Swede playing Pokémon Go in Stockholm. Photo: Izabelle Nordfjell/TT

He tried to climb a fence to find more Pokémon.

Video
When Alicia Vikander taught us to put our pen in the bottle
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander and US talkshow host Jimmy Fallon. Photo: Tonight Show/NBC/Screenshot

We're not even sure if that's a euphemism or not.

Muslim man fired for not shaking women's hands
File photo of people shaking hands. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

A man is suing a local council in Sweden after he lost his job for refusing to shake hands with female colleagues.

Swedish bus driver who hit asylum seeker: 'I'm not racist'
The story has grabbed global headlines. Photo: Nobina

A Swedish bus driver caught on camera beating and kicking an asylum seeker has for the first time spoken to media.

Stay out, the water's filthy! Germs ruin Swedes' swims
Seagulls only.

Fancy a dip? If so, you might want to keep your mouth shut.

Man kicked off flight from Sweden over 'Isis tattoo'
A Norwegian plane at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

A flight from Stockholm was delayed on Thursday after it was claimed that one of the passengers had an Isis flag tattooed on his arm.

Homes
In pictures: Are Swedes falling in love with colour at last?
What happened to the Swedish greyscale? Photo: Linda Åhman

Antonia Wiklund of Houzz.se investigates why the Swedes are abandoning their sleek and clean interior design for vibrant colours.

The Local Recipes
How to make Swedish cold poached salmon
Cold poached salmon. Photo: John Duxbury/Swedish Food

Poached salmon is a Swedish summer classic. Food writer John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local.

Property
This castle: yours for the price of a tiny flat
Hägerstads Castle: a tumultuous history. Photo: Skeppsholmen Sotheby's International Realty.

It has turrets, is set on a lake and is just 2 hours from Stockholm. So why's it so cheap?

Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Blog updates

14 July

Boris Johnson: why Britain’s new foreign minister is cordially loathed (Globally Local) »

"There are lots of things to say about Boris Johnson, Britain’s new foreign secretary. He is…" READ »

 

11 July

Swedish quizzes (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I have created some quizzes you can take online to test your Swedish skills. Here…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
Politics
What Sweden's home secretary thinks of Britain's new PM
Gallery
Property of the week: Smedjebacken, Dalarna
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
Politics
WATCH: A very Swedish take on Brexit...
National
Swede's fury at Daily Mail's Bråvalla 'lies'
Gallery
People-watching: July 8th-10th
National
Sweden and Denmark trolled each other on Twitter and it's hilarious
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
National
ANALYSIS: Why Swedes are talking more about immigration than before
National
Watch Icelanders cheer their Swedish hero coach
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,341
jobs available