Midsummer: Sweden’s real national day

Summer is barely underway at Midsummer –arguably Sweden’s best loved holiday. Swedes regale with food, dance and merriment around the midsommarstång they’ve so lovingly prepared, decorated and erected. It is Sweden’s maypole, a symbol of fertility and Sweden’s love for the summer season. And a darn good excuse for a party.

Midsommar is just about as Swedish as it gets. Rain, shine, snow or full blown blizzard, Swedes always herald the beauty of Swedish nature even if they need to huddle shivering under dripping tree branches. Nothing gets between a Swede and her exuberance in the glory of Sweden a-grow in green.

The place to find these nature loving Swedes is anywhere but in the city. Swedes head to their holiday homes or cast anchor and sail to a crowded cove. As a result, the streets are eerily empty, and if you have the rare experience of driving to the big city and searching for that normally elusive parking spot, you are in for a once-a-year opportunity of having the pick of the prime spots—all of them.

Historically, Midsommar is the celebration of the summer solstice. In true Swedish pragmatic tradition, Midsummer’s Day is these days marked on the Saturday that falls between 20 and 26 June. As with all Swedish tradition, it’s the eve that brings on the festivities.

Officially Midsummer’s Eve is not a banking holiday, but only he who has drawn the shortest straw has the misfortune of showing up for work. The rest are in place (if not caught in traffic or run aground) among the birch saplings gathering wild flowers to decorate the midsommarstång.

The bigger the gathering the larger the midsommarstång. It’s a fertility symbol after all, and some men feel size matters. While the guys struggle to erect the pole the women lay the table.

No midsommar meal is without new potatoes boiled in dill, an array of pickled herrings served with cold beer and a chilled bottle of snaps—Swedish aquavit. If you listen carefully, somewhere a group of midsommar celebrants are singing Bellman while toasting with their snaps. The crescendo of the meal is completed with fat, ripe strawberries served with cream.

The dance around the maypole attracts the families and traditional Swedes brimming with nostalgia. Swedish summer may mean different things to each, but regardless of the specifics of what those sentiments evoke, this is the time of year they hold closest in their hearts.

Teens usually await the evening to start their merry making and the rest do their best to keep on going. And as the wee hours are almost as bright as the late evening’s waning light the celebration doesn’t seem to stop.

There are romantic notions of the spirit of Midsummer’s Eve. It’s said that if a girl picks seven different types of flowers and puts them under her pillow her future husband will appear in a dream. Midsummer is believed to be a magical time for love. Whether true or not, the copious amounts of alcohol and the lure of love bumps the birthrate nine months later.

Midsummer has been repeatedly proposed as Sweden’s National Day. Had it not fallen so closely to the dissolution of the union between Sweden and brother country, Norway, Midsommar would most likely been chosen.

No matter. The day you will likely find a proud Swede adorned in traditional dress will be Midsommarafton. They might have a dress rehearsal on the official National Day on 6th June. Midsommar may not be the official day, but it would be difficult to find a Swede anywhere in the world on Midsummer’s Eve who is not dreaming of – or actually celebrating outside – a red cottage, a maypole and the blue and yellow of the flag fluttering in the summer breeze.

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius

Homepage photo:Peter Westrup; Copyright: Folio; imagebank.sweden.se