SHARE
COPY LINK

F

Swedish feminists push for Midsummer ‘mayhole’ revolution

While most Swedes look forward to dancing around a traditional maypole this Midsummer, one group of gender-conscious revellers is pushing Swedes to celebrate the holiday by gathering around a vagina instead, contributor Lina Sennevall discovers.

Swedish feminists push for Midsummer 'mayhole' revolution
Images courtesy of the Midsommarfitta Facebook page

With the cherished Midsummer holiday just around the corner, Swedes across the country are busy planning how they’ll spend this most traditional of holidays.

Among the most important parts of a traditional Midsummer celebration is the decoration and erection of a flower-adorned maypole, around which joyous Swedes, young and old, dance and sing merry tunes like “Små grodorna” (‘Little frogs’) in a rapturous celebration of the summer’s warmth and sunshine.

But this year, a growing chorus of voices rising up against Sweden’s traditional Midsummer celebrations, implore Swedes to break with tradition and dance around a vagina instead.

“In the future I want coming generations to say on their trips abroad that ‘In Sweden we celebrate midsummer by dancing around a vagina’,” says Alexander Alvina Chamberland, co-founder of the group Midsommarfitta (‘Midsummer Cunt’).

Chamberland, a self-proclaimed ‘femme genderqueer’ who launched the group on Facebook in 2008, believes the traditional Midsummer maypole is a sexist phallic symbol that should be replaced by something of a more feminine flavour.

Rather than erecting a maypole, he and other members in the group want Swedes to spend time fashioning ‘mayholes’ by digging a hole in the ground or arranging tree branches in the shape of a vagina.

“It could be all different sizes, laid on the ground, or erected into the sky. It could be built from flowers, fabric, leafs, stones or glass,” says Chamberland, who believes Sweden’s current Midsummer tradition is too “heteronormative”.

“It’s not just the pole,” he explains.

“The tradition of girls picking seven different flowers to put under their pillow to dream about their future man is also very heteronormative and patriarchal.”

As a femme genderqueer who feels neither like a man nor woman, but nevertheless chooses to act in a feminine manner, Chamberland says the goal of the Midsommarfitta initiative is to bring down the phallic symbols everywhere in society but also to get people to look at other holidays with a critical eye.

“Everything is politics,” says Alexander.

“Just look at Santa Claus. He’s working while Mrs Claus sits at home. And he has little slaves that make everything for him.”

However, some experts dispute Chamberland’s assertion that the Midsummer maypole is in fact a phallic symbol.

“The short answer is that the maypole is not really a phallic symbol. A person’s interpretation of the maypole is of course very individual but generally you could say that the pole symbolises party, summer and time off work,“ says Katarina Ek-Nilson, of Sweden’s Institute for Language and folklore (Institutet för språk och folkminnen).

“The maypole is in fact a German custom that came to Sweden around the 16th century, so it’s not an ancient tradition.”

Ek-Nilson adds that the shape of maypoles can vary, with some also being shaped like a cross.

“There are also indications that they used to look more like smaller poles or sceptres,” she explains.

Others suggest that the pole indeed represents a penis but that the earth symbolises the woman being fertilised by the pole, meaning that both sexes are actually being represented in the traditional symbol.

But such explanations fail to convince Chamberland, who has just finished his master degree in gender studies, that Midsummer celebrations don’t need changing.

“That still reflects the different gender roles and the view that there are only two genders and that sex should only be vaginal and between a man and a woman when in fact there are lots of different ways to have sex,” he argues.

Stina Svensson, a spokesperson for the feminist political party Feminist Initiative (Feministiskt Initiativ – FI), welcomes Chamberland’s efforts.

“I think it seems like a creative new way to celebrate Midsummer and I think it’s good when people celebrate the way they want to instead of how they should,” she says.

Chamberland hopes to utilise the Midsommarfitta Facebook group, which now boasts more than 3,000 members, to help spread awareness about how to create a Midsummer vagina by encouraging people to share pictures of their ‘mayholes’ with one another ahead of this year’s holiday.

So far, the response has been encouraging.

“I’m very surprised over the positive feedback and that so many people like this fun and political way of celebrating,” says Chamberland.

Although thousands have embraced the ‘Midsummer Cunt’ movement, the group has received its share of criticism, especially from anti-feminists.

But Chamberland shrugs off the negative reactions, arguing that detractors are simply taking the group too seriously.

“Feminists are often accused of not having any humour and then when we do, people complain that we’re ridiculous. I’d like to say though that most people have been positive,” he says.

Either way, Chamberland plans on spending his Midsummer holiday in Berlin this year.

And while he won’t be dancing around a vagina, he plans keep a close eye on the group’s Facebook page to monitor the expected flood of Midsummer ‘mayholes’ he expects to turn up.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

CHRISTMAS

#SwedishChristmas: How Elsa Beskow created a timeless Swedish Christmas

Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar.

#SwedishChristmas: How Elsa Beskow created a timeless Swedish Christmas
Swedish illustrator and writer Elsa Beskow did double-duty to make her mark on Christmas in Sweden. Photo: SvD/TT

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more articles for Members here.

Since the 19th century, some of Sweden's most famous writers and artists have contributed to shaping Swedish Christmas. The poetry and prose of writers like Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the illustrations of artists like Carl Larsson helped define Christmas through the distribution of jultidningar (Swedish Christmas magazines). The jultomte (a.k.a. the Swedish Santa) was introduced and popularized with the publication of writer Viktor Rydberg's poem and short story, and the accompanying illustrations of Jenny Nyström.

Among these and countless other creative contributors to Swedish Christmas, most were confined to expressing themselves using just one art form. Few managed what Elsa Beskow accomplished in combining her dual talents as both an illustrator and a writer.

From her first illustrations in the Swedish Christmas magazine Jultomten in 1894 to the publication in 1947 of the children's book, Peter and Lotta's Christmas (Petter och Lottas Jul), which she wrote and illustrated, Beskow's creative output left a lasting impression on Swedish Christmas.


One of Elsa Beskow's illustration for Swedish Christmas magazine Jultomten. Photo: Public Domain

Peter and Lotta's Christmas, the last book in a series about two children living with their three aunts, is a Christmas classic in Sweden, where it was adapted as part of a television series and a 1968 film. More recently, a popular version of the Nutcracker ballet combined with Peter and Lotta's Christmas has been performed at the Royal Swedish Opera since 1995. Like much of Beskow's body of work, the book has been translated into 14 languages, spreading Swedish Christmas traditions like the julbock (the Swedish Christmas goat, which we'll cover tomorrow) around the world.

As with Jenny Nyström, Beskow's many illustrations of jultomtar, julbockar, and cherubic children and happy families sledding and celebrating Christmas, continue to appear in a variety of modern contexts, from Christmas tree ornaments to greeting cards to serving trays. It is a testament to Beskow's tremendous talent that these images have not only stood the test of time, but have also inspired modern artists like Swedish designer Katharina Kippel to adapt and incorporate them in their own work.  

Though Elsa Beskow's contributions to Christmas in Sweden are in many ways particularly Swedish, they also have a much broader appeal that, as the publisher of the English language versions of her books notes, “transcend nationality and time”.

Each day until Christmas Eve, we're looking at the story behind one Swedish festive tradition. Find the rest of our #SwedishChristmas series HERE.

SHOW COMMENTS