• Sweden edition
 
Midsummer
The Lowdown on Swedish Midsummer

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
Cash for Swedes who saw dying Dad on TV
Svea Court of Appeal in Stockholm. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Cash for Swedes who saw dying Dad on TV

Relatives of a man whose final moments appeared in a television programme about a hospital in Sweden have each been awarded 20,000 kronor ($2,700) in compensation, after a court ruled that his privacy had been breached. READ  

Sweden rallies behind women in Ukraine
Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallström in Kiev. Photo: Gustav Sjöholm/TT

Sweden rallies behind women in Ukraine

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström is making her first visit to Ukraine, where she has urged leaders to press on with efforts to support women and cut corruption as tensions continue in the east of the country. READ  

The Local's Countdown to Christmas
Five magical Swedish winter markets
Kalmar Castle, Småland is hosting a Christmas market. Photo: Flickr/Simon Green

Five magical Swedish winter markets

Stockholm and Gothenburg may be the main tourist draws when it comes to winter markets in Sweden, but away from the big cities, Swedes do their Christmas shopping in barns, castles and farm shops. Here are The Local's top tips for 2014. READ  

Immigrant graduate jobs on the rise in Sweden
More foreign-born graduates are finding work in Sweden. Photo: Shutterstock

Immigrant graduate jobs on the rise in Sweden

It is getting easier for foreign-born graduates to find a job in Sweden, according to the country's Employment Service, which says it has seen a jump in the percentage of immigrants scoring roles that require a university degree or college education. READ  

Hospital in 'fairyland' tax haven claims
A model of the new Karolinska hospital being constructed in Stockholm. Photo: Bertil Enevåg Ericson/TT

Hospital in 'fairyland' tax haven claims

An estimated 1.3 billion kronor of taxpayers money set aside to build Sweden's most advanced hospital is alleged to have been channelled to a tax haven in Luxembourg by the companies behind the project. READ  

Sweden's Spotify turns up volume as losses fall
Spotify was created in 2008 in Sweden. Photo: Erik Mårtensson/TT

Sweden's Spotify turns up volume as losses fall

The world's biggest music streaming service, Spotify, has announced that its revenue grew by 74 percent in 2013 while net losses shrank by one third, in a year of spectacular expansion. READ  

The Local's Countdown to Christmas
Top ten Swedish Christmas presents
Presents photo: Shutterstock

Top ten Swedish Christmas presents

Christmas shopping is a challenge every year. If you're looking for something particularly Swedish with a special touch, it can be even harder. Here is The Local's own guide to top Christmas gifts of the year. READ  

Video: Fashion versus Weather
How to stay stylish in Sweden in November
Student Antonia Erlandsson laughs off the wet weather under a wide-brimmed hat. Photo: The Local

How to stay stylish in Sweden in November

It's hard to flaunt your favourite fashions when the November skies are unrelentingly bleak even by Swedish standards. But fashion doesn't have to be a victim of Scandinavia's chilly weather, as The Local discovers on the streets of Stockholm. READ  

Christmas sun sought by record numbers
Many Swedes are opting for warmer climes during Christmas. File photo: puroticorico/Flickr

Christmas sun sought by record numbers

A record number of Swedes are leaving the country to go away on holiday for Christmas, with sunny destinations like the Canary Islands and old favourite Thailand proving most popular. READ  

Man shot dead in Stockholm 'execution'
Police examine the shattered window of the Audi car after a man was shot dead in Sollentuna on November 25th 2014. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer /TT

Man shot dead in Stockholm 'execution'

A 32-year-old man has been shot dead in his car in Stockholm, with witnesses describing the attack as a brutal killing. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
How to get your own office anywhere in the world
National
'I'm a Swedish 'expat' in my home country'
Imagebank Sweden
Society
Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's 2015 Eurovision hopefuls
Gallery
Property of the week: Rosengården
Blog updates

26 November

Is Putin trying to buy up Europe’s nationalists? (Globally Local) »

" Photo: Alexey Druzhinin/AFP Political funding is a murky business at the best of times. If a party..." READ »

 

26 November

Not Pants (Blogweiser) »

" The woman who took the picture above was on her first visit to IKEA. She had just..." READ »

 
 
 
National
'Racist' Black Pete party scrapped in Sweden
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Christmas gifts through the years
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Family life in Stockholm
Lifestyle
'I'm spreading Japan's 'cute' culture in Sweden'
National
Ebola: Sweden's leading expert speaks
National
Why this Swedish rabbi is facing death threats
National
Fears up to 300 Swedes fighting with Isis
Lifestyle
How to make Swedish mulled wine
Gallery
People-watching: November 22nd - 23rd
Society
What's on in Sweden: November 20th to 27th
National
How to boost your career in Skåne, Sweden's south
Lifestyle
How an Umeå museum is rewriting Swedish history
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Lifestyle
Five unique backpacker hostels in Stockholm
National
Bones show off Sweden's history
National
What new word are Swedes voting on?
National
Why African Swedes are angry about Santa's helper
National
Pine, tar, and tinder: flavours from the north
Gallery
Selfies, solidarity and Hillary Clinton: Stefan Löfven on tour
Gallery
People-watching: November 19th
Society
Why are international professionals leaving Sweden?
Business & Money
Meet the Swedes who made suits for The Hunger Games
Technology
'I'm among the first Swedes with a microchip'
National
What is Sweden doing about bird flu?
Gallery
Property of the week: Eriksberg
National
Vecka45: Sweden's most innovative week
Gallery
In Pictures: The clubs and loves of Sweden's Sven-Göran Eriksson
Society
What's On in Sweden: November 13th to 20th
Gallery
People-watching: November 16th
National
Driving (expats) home for Christmas?
Lifestyle
Make your own Swedish pea soup
Politics
"Totally unacceptable": Defence Minister on Stockholm submarine
Society
The A-Ö guide to making life in Sweden easier
National
How a Swedish party inspired a masterpiece
National
Seen the new Ace of Base yet?
National
Meet the Irish woman thundering into Swedish rock
Gallery
In Pictures: Ace of Base through the years
Society
Ten things you should never say to a Swede
Gallery
People-watching: November 12th
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
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

775
jobs available
Swedish Down Town
Consulting & Productions

We are an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish authorities, Swedish language practice, and general communications.
Call 0731 004 781 or visit:
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:
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
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply