Tag archives for Midsummer

Very Superstitious!

I was one of those kids who believed in Santa Claus for too long. I read a lot of fantasy and Sci-Fi growing up, too, so I had certain (socially awkward) beliefs about the presence of magic in our everyday lives. Then there was the part where I would pray to certain saints for help depending on what they were in charge of in the Catholic Church. St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, was a particular favorite of a forgetful, 14-year-old me.

As time went on, however, the importance of those superstitions faded. I still harbor some residual faith in magical beings and say an “Our Father” every time I take off or land in a plane, but that’s about it.

It was only when I moved to Austria that superstitions became a source of interest again—and this time, because the superstitions seemed so strange. Then, of course, I had to check the Austrian superstitions against the Swedish ones, and there were more than a few similarities.

For example, it’s very dangerous for a girl to sit on the pavement or on steps when it’s cold outside. The cold will penetrate your you-know-what, and you’ll get a life-threatening urinary tract infection. When you get a cold, it’s important to eat—no, not citrus fruits, but garlic; this remedy is usually taken raw, sliced, and mixed with yogurt.

My all-time favorite, although I think this is an Austria-only superstition, is definitely the Topfen Treatment. Topfen (also known as Quark, Weißkäse, or Kesella) is a lot like cottage cheese, and in Austria, it’s a common filling for desserts. When my friend, Elaine, got carpal tunnel syndrome in Vienna, her doctor told her that surgery was unnecessary because all she needed to do was let her wrist rest in a good amount of quark, as the cheese would “draw the inflammation out.” Right.

So much cake, so much potential for disaster. Photo: Kate Wiseman

The first time I encountered a superstition in Sweden, I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that there was a lot of laughter going on with the serving of a cake, and my boyfriend’s mother was violently shaking her dish until the slice of cake fell on its side. Now I know that—of course!—if your slice of cake falls over, you’ll never get married, which is just the way Malena wants it.

Then I learned in my Swedish for Immigrants class that people don’t really cross their fingers to wish you luck here. They hold their thumbs. If you see someone waving their clenched fist at you—don’t be alarmed. They’re just wishing you good luck.

Then there’s the magic surrounding Midsummer’s Eve, which definitely falls under the label of “magic I’m totally willing to believe in.” According to legend, if you pick seven kinds of flowers in complete silence on Midsummer’s Eve and sleep with them under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future husband. (This one is hetero-woman specific, sorry!)

My seven flowers didn't reveal my future husband, but they did add an air of mystery to the night. Photo: Kate Wiseman

I was really excited to try this out, so I picked my flowers in silence and slept with them under my pillow. Unfortunately, I got confused by the fact that we were celebrating Midsummer on Midsummer’s Eve, so I picked my flowers on Midsummer’s Eve’s Eve… it’s confusing. You understand why this was an easy mistake to make. (Right? Right?) In any case, my sleep was dreamless. I guess I’ll just have to make up my own mind!

Another one I love in weather-obsessed Sweden: if it rains on your wedding, you’ll have a long and happy marriage. I won’t say anything against this one because it rained (very briefly) on our friends’ wedding day, and of course I want it to stand as an omen of good luck. What I will say, however, is that if rain on your wedding day is a serious objective, getting married in Sweden is a great idea.

This guy is not threatening you or asking you to join his movement. He’s wishing you good luck, obviously! Photo: Artbandito (CC BY-NC-ND)

The more you know, the more dangerous it gets. Apparently stepping on manholes with an “A” on them is bad luck, and now I try to skip over them, even though I don’t know how or why they would possibly give me bad luck. What’s more, there’s kind of a lot of them once you’re paying attention. Leaving your keys on the table is also bad luck, a belief that supposedly dates back to ye good olde days in Sweden, when prostitutes would signal their availability by leaving the keys to their rooms on the bar.

At times, these little tips come in handy. Instead of having to be paralyzed when you meet a black cat on the road, you can just say “tvi-tvi-tvi” over your shoulder instead and keep on marching on. Instead of just knocking on wood, you can add a little chant: “peppar, peppar, ta i trä!”

I tried to read more about superstitions, but I quickly ran out of English-language texts, and the Swedish sources used so many words that were not in the dictionary that I had to give up. I imagine it’s like how I vaguely know the difference between a sprite, a dryad, a gnome, an elf, and a troll from children’s books and nursery tales. It’s these pieces of cultural information that I’m still missing more than a year into living in Sweden, and this kind of cultural literacy that is just as difficult to attain (if not harder) than language skills.

Being an expat—it’s a journey of a million teeny-tiny steps, and without knowing my destination, I can tell you that it’s one hell of an interesting trip.

A final message from the one and only Stevie Wonder:

Oh, snap(s)… it’s Midsummer.

There’s no use trying to be delicate about this. A crucial part of the Midsummer festivities is the drinking. I’m trying very hard to sound very adult-like and responsible in this blog, but even the totally responsible adults I know seem to be prone to, ahem, a little excess during Midsummer.

Snaps! Aquavit! Brännvin! Bål! Where to start?

Delicious glasses of bål chilling out with the Midsummer Head Wreaths. Photo: Kate Wiseman.

Here’s the basics.

Bål (pronounced like “bowl”) is an alcohol-based fruit punch, usually made with soda for a light and bubbly taste.

Aquavit is the traditional pairing to pickled herring and is made from a vodka base (either potato or grain). Like parmesan and champagne, aquavit is an EU-protected label that must be made with either dill or caraway or both, a baseline flavor that can then be paired with other herbs and spices to make distinctive varieties.

Brännvin is any kind of flavored, distilled alcohol, including but not limited to aquavit. The name “brännvin” refers to the “burning” or distillation of an alcohol, and different kinds of brännvin have been made throughout Scandinavia for centuries.

Snaps is not a type of alcohol; it’s the way a shot of alcohol is drunk. Snaps can be any liquor or combination of liquors and other ingredients, but snaps must be taken in combination with food. At Midsummer, snaps of aquavit or other types of brännvin are usually taken after “snapsvisor” (traditional Swedish drinking songs) are sung.

Kate and Anna’s home brew… sort of

People tend to be on their most Swedish behavior around me as though they owe it to me to show me what a real Swede would do. This system works out really well for me, and whenever I get an idea in my head of something we should do because it’s Swedish, chances are really good that people will play along. Not only that, but since all the old traditions are new to me, I am having a lot of fun taking part in all the things people usually stop doing when they’re children. The “be a good cultural ambassador to the foreigner” complex is awesome. I quite like it.

Which brings us to the snaps situation.

I love Johanna Kindvall’s Kok Blog, and ever since I consulted with her on my Holy Herring! blog post, I’ve been curious to try her recipe for aquavit—she said herring is at its best when paired with the strong and spicy liquor, and I knew that herring was definitely on the menu for Friday. Fortunately, Anna said she was up for the challenge, so we went for it.

Measuring, grinding, steeping, smelling... and voila! Our very own homemade snaps. Photos: Kate Wiseman.

Final result: delicious. I can’t even tell you how many people were like, “Well, I’m not much of a snaps person, but I’ll try it anyway since you made it,” then took half a shot, then reacted with a great deal of surprise: “Wow! That’s not bad!” Two minutes later, another drinking song has started and they’re making a grab for your bottle instead of the store-bought bottle sitting on the table…

You can find the recipes for both the black currant and aquavit varieties on the Kok Blog. The black currant might be a little hard to make if you don’t grow the bushes yourself, but perhaps some readers can suggest where to find them.  I highly recommend both varieties. I liked the aquavit better, but the black currant is lighter and perhaps a little easier to drink if you’re not into spice. Just be sure not to let the black currant leaves steep for too long, otherwise it will start to taste a little grassy.

Back to the bål

For those of you who are not into shots, the bål (fruit punch) that we had at our party was amazing. And therefore dangerous. It was somewhere in the middle of my fourth glass that I thought to myself, “Hmm… I hope this isn’t too strong because I am drinking it really quickly.”

There are almost endless variations of bål and while most are fruity, they can also be made with bitter ingredients, like angostura. You can see an abbreviated selection of the flavor combinations suggested by Systembolaget, the national alcohol monopoly.

A small selection of the wide range of bål variations. Photos: Systembolaget.se.

For those of you who might want a taste of Sweden at your next summer party, here’s the punch that I can vouch for as totally tasty, with thanks to my friend Matilda for sharing the recipe!

Matilda’s Midsummer Bål

Will make two punch bowls full

4 bottles of white wine (or one box)

2 bottles of Sprite

¼ bottle of elderberry cordial/concentrate (find recipe here; can also be bought at Ikea stores worldwide)

¼ bottle of rhubarb and strawberry concentrate

A generous splash of Bacardi lemon

Frozen chopped mango pieces

Fresh lime, sliced thinly into triangles

Frozen strawberries

A few fresh strawberries

A few last thoughts

For those of you who are wondering how I felt the next morning, well… I wasn’t exactly jumping out of bed, itching to run a marathon, but overall I was fine. Water! Water is good for you. Thank goodness I drank a lot of it at the end of the night.

Top things I’ll miss in Sweden

While studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the hardest part isn’t going to your host country: it’s coming back home.

Meeting new people from around the world is just one of the many advantages of studying abroad. Photo: Ben Mack

I’ve been studying in Sweden for about a year, and am definitely going to miss a few things. Here are the 14 I’ll miss most.

_____________________

1. Strawberries

 Back where I come from in Oregon, we’re known for having some of the best-tasting strawberries in the world. But even they pale in comparison to the Swedish variety, which taste like a combination of ecstasy, fulfillment, and a satisfaction in knowing you will never have better.

2. Winter

I know what you’re thinking: how can anyone love a season where temperatures can dip below minus 20 Celsius, snow is almost a meter thick, and it’s dark 18 hours (or more) a day? That’s precisely why I love the Swedish winter: it’s so different than what I had been previously used to. In Oregon, winter is marked by over 100 centimeters of rain, and in Boise if it’s snowing… well, if it’s snowing, then that’s the least of your problems. But in Sweden mayors don’t declare a state of emergency when it snows, and the glistening white stuff is also, I’ve discovered, a lot of fun to play in.

Swedish pancakes are, in a word, delicious. Photo: Anne Balonier

3. The food

Sweden may not usually be the first place that comes to mind when people think of tasty national cuisine, but I’ve found Swedish food to be surprisingly scrumptious – and much more diverse than herring and köttbullar. It’s much more affordable than it is in the U.S. (where you usually have to go to a specialty store or IKEA), and obviously more authentic too. And, when I was tired of traditional Svensk mat, grocery stores carry foods from all over the world, including the artificially preserved,  flavorized, prepackaged, hormone-treated, sugar-infused fare I – unfortunately – was raised on.

4. The people

This one comes as a no-brainer. Life isn’t just about what you do: it’s about who you meet. And in Sweden, I’ve met some amazing people, from Swedes such as my host family and close friends to fellow exchange students who’ve helped me broaden my horizons and taught me a lot about myself, too. If it wasn’t for this motley cast of characters, there’s no way my time abroad would have been as magical as it was.

Any time is a great time for a fika! Photo: Anne Balonier

5. Fikas

A uniquely Swedish creation, a fika is a great way to spend time with friends, family, classmates, coworkers, or just about anyone. It’s also a great excuse to consume more coffee and sweets than your mother would have ever allowed you to have growing up.

6. The queue system 

Back home, when you go to someplace like the bank, housing office, etc. you have to wait in line. And wait. And wait. And wait. But in Sweden, you just take a number and wait for your number to be called.  It’s great for people such as myself who can never stay in one place for more than three minutes.

7. Traveling by train 

Trains in the U.S. are few, far between, and incredibly expensive. In Boise, a city of more than 200,000 people and a metro area of half a million, there isn’t even a single operating train station. Pretty much every town in Sweden has a train station, and – in my opinion – paying 400 kronor to travel from Växjö to Göteborg seems pretty cheap. It’s a great way for students without cars to get around.

Kronobergs Slottsruinen, located north of Växjö, dates back to the 15th century. Photo: Ben Mack

8. The history

Some Swedes may gripe that there isn’t much history in Sweden, but it’s a whole lot more than where I come from. Back in Boise, the oldest building is an old log house from the 1800s. In Sweden, people live in houses older than that. Heck, the Växjö Domkyrka (Växjö Cathedral) was built in the 12th century – more than 300 years before America was even “discovered.” Every town has its own rich and unique history.

9. Allsvenskan football

Few things are able to match the passion — and intensity – of Allsvenskan football matches. It’s one of the rare times you’ll see Swedes lose all emotional control, and is certainly not to be missed.

Few things match the passion and excitement of Allsvenskan football. Photo: Ben Mack

10.  My host family

Host families are a fantastic way to see the “real” Sweden, and I had a great time with mine. From going to football matches, to barbecues, to fishing, to speaking to secondary school students and to jumping in frozen lakes, I will miss them greatly.

11.  The summer

If the Swedish winter is spectacular, then the summer is even more so. Photo: Ben Mack

If the Swedish winter is spectacular, then the summer is even more so. Temperatures around 20 Celsius, clear skies, 18 hours of sunlight, Midsummer… what could be better?

12.  Nature

Swedes have a special connection to nature, and it’s easy to see why. Never in my life have I seen a country as green as Sweden is. From the forests to the meadows to the thousands of lakes, it’s hard to imagine more beautiful scenery anywhere else on earth.

13.  Teleborgs Slott

Sure it’s not that old (built around 1900), and sure it’s not that big, but it’s the first castle I’d ever seen. And when it’s only a five-minute walk from your flat, you tend to spend a lot of time there. Truly, it’s the most magical place I’ve ever been. No matter the occasion – whether I was having a bad day, was stressed out, wanted to enjoy nature, meditate, hang out with friends, take a girl on a date, study, or whatever – I could just walk through the castle’s spacious grounds or inside to have a fika. Every moment spent there was spent in timeless bliss.

Though not very old, Teleborgs Slott is nonetheless magnificent. Photo: Ben Mack

 

14.  The Swedes

Whether it’s their closeness to nature, tolerance of others, friendliness, ingenuity, or helpfulness, it’s obvious the Swedes are special. Never before have met friendlier, more tolerant, or helpful people in my life. With them, the glass is always half-full. And their smiles can power a small city. And they’re the most loyal friends you can ever have.

My advice to anyone coming to Sweden: enjoy every moment of it. Because when you’re gone…

You’re not in Sweden anymore. And that’s what I’ll miss the most.

When you're in Sweden for a year, you tend to meet at least a few Swedes. Photo: Tiina Syränjen

Flickr favorite: Midsommar Åke

Midsummer Åke
Photo by: Marc Roberts (CC BY NC)

Celebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård

Celebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmCelebrating Midsummer at Farsta Gård - Photography by Lola Akinmade ÅkerströmWe’ve been blogging about Midsummer all week; a national holiday with deep traditional roots. Today, I headed over to Farsta Gård, just outside of Stockholm to check out the Midsummer festivities which included dancing (and hopping) around the maypole (midsommarstång) singing folk songs to finding your own patch of grass to spread out a picnic in what I call the largest picnic party ever.

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The magic – and madness – of Midsummer

So, what’s the strangest holiday you can think of?

Perhaps you’d say Halloween, an American creation which – as far as I can tell – consists of children dressing up as witches, ghosts, zombies, and all manner of less-than-kosher creatures and visiting the homes of strangers to ask for candy. Or maybe you’d say Diwali, a five-day Indian festival that involves enough fireworks to rival the energy output of the sun. And don’t forget Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican celebration of the dead in which people honor their deceased loved ones by eating skulls made of sugar.

Following basic logic, you’re probably thinking that next I’m going to say that the Swedish Midsummer is the strangest of them all, a holiday that, with its dancing around maypoles and eating more than even an elephant can stomach, makes about as much sense as O.J. Simpson and that infamous car chase.

I could say that but, honestly, Midsummer makes perfect sense. Heck, compared to other traditions it seems – dare I say it – downright normal. Allow me to explain.

Dancing around a maypole is one of the highlights of Midsummer. Photo: Mikael Häggström/Public Domain

June 25 is Midsummer, one of the biggest holidays of the year in Sweden. Traditional events include raising and dancing around a huge maypole (majstång or midsommarstång), an activity that attracts families, neighbors, wild animals, and pretty much anything with a pulse in Sweden. People listen to traditional Swedish music, and some even wear traditional folk costumes that, personally, look much better than those highly stereotyped Bavarian beer maid outfits or whatever you call that decidedly bizarre getup yodelers wear. In addition, many girls wear crowns made of wild springs and wildflowers on their heads. Potatoes, herring, chives, sour cream, beer, snaps and the famous Swedish strawberries are usually eaten, and a variety of drinks are consumed – proving, once again, that you can’t have a holiday in Sweden without eating something.

Like many other things in Sweden (see: winter), the key to surviving Midsummer is endurance. Endurance in the face of a gastronomic smorgasbord that could make all but the hardiest faint. Endurance in the face of talking to relatives you haven’t seen since Christmas or longer. And endurance in knowing that, thanks to almost 24 hours of summertime sunshine, the party might very well go on all day and all night.

But think about it: if you lived in a country where there’s frost on the ground six months out of the year, almost 24 hours of darkness in winter, and occasionally home to some of the coldest winter temperatures on the planet, wouldn’t you want to celebrate once the sun and warm temperatures arrived? Of course you would. And what better way to celebrate than on one of the warmest and sunniest days of the year?

Humans aren't the only ones who love Midsummer weather. Photo: Ben Mack

There’s some interesting history behind Midsummer, too. Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Traditionally, young people picked bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hopes of dreaming about their future spouse. In the past it was believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were highly potent, and water from springs could bring good health. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may), and may be the origin of the modern word majstång. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a midsommarstång (literally “midsummer’s pole”).

Another Midsummer tradition is that unmarried girls should – before going to sleep on midsummer’s eve – pick seven kinds of flowers and jump over seven roundpole fences and then sleep with the flowers under a pillow. Supposedly, during the night they would then dream about who they would get married to. If only things were that simple today, huh?

O.K., so maybe Midsummer is a little strange. But it’s about as Swedish as anything can get, as quintessentially part of the country’s heritage as meatballs, julmust, and red wooden houses.

Midsummer is a great time to hang out with friends. Photo: Tamar Amashukeli

And if you’re a lonely student looking to see what the big deal about dancing around a maypole really is, never fear: many towns and cities offer public Midsummer celebrations (the annual Midsummer celebrations held in Stockholm’s Skansen Park and Leksand in Dalarna are said to be the largest in the world).

If you’re lucky enough to be in Sweden this time of year, go out and enjoy Midsummer. I promise there won’t be any kids ringing your door at 11 p.m. asking for candy.

Happy Midsummer!

I started writing this last night in the quiet of my apartment, feeling a little like a child the night before Christmas. All the preparations for Midsummer were in order, there were certain tasks that need to be completed in the morning (among those: making another flower head wreath), and now, this morning, all that stands between me and the Midsummer festivities is time.

Although the weather is less than perfect at the moment, I’m excited to see what the day will bring. Undoubtedly herring and snaps, fresh potatoes and a strawberry cake. (See fellow Sweden.se blogger Anne’s Midsummer strawberry cake for an example.) But what else? Should I have bought a traditional folk dress? Now I’m just making myself nervous.

I thought about live blogging Midsummer from beginning to end for a moment, right before I realized that combining aquavit consumption with internet access was not a good idea. I’ll be taking lots of photos instead so I can report back to you all later.

Will we dance around a maypole? Will traditional songs be sung? Will we channel the spirit of the Vikings and summon the ghost of Leif Ericsson? (I really hope so.) On a related note, do you think that Ikea makes ready-to-assemble maypoles? Because that would be awesome.

Here is a small sampling of photos from the week’s Midsummer preparations—making snaps, weaving our own flower head wreaths, and tapping centuries-old Midsummer magic. There will be much more later on all the action.

Photos: Kate Wiseman.

In the meantime, happy, happy Midsummer to all of you! I hope you enjoy the day no matter where you are.

 

Flickr favorite: Midsummer Herring Lunch

Midsummer Herring Lunch
Photo by: Pär Lindholm (CC BY NC SA)

Classic Swedish Midsummer Cake

A real classic: strawberry cream cake. Photo: Anne Skoogh

This Friday is Midsummer’s Eve, which is one of the most celebrated holidays in Sweden. (It ranks right up there with christmas.) So what is really celebrated? Well, the summer solstice, and the light. As such a large part of the year is dark in especially Northern Sweden, we take every advantage of the lighter part of the year. Midsummer’s is the night to stay up all night (and it’s actually sunlight 24 hours in some parts of the country!), eating, drinking and being with family and friends.

Foodwise, most people eat sill (pickled herring) and new potatoes as a starter, washed down with plenty of snaps. There’s no traditional main course, but anything grilled is popular. Dessert, however. Oh, dessert…

Nothing beats a classic strawberry cream cake. It’s very popular as a dessert for Midsummer’s Eve. There’s no single recipe for it though – everybody makes their own versions, and I honestly suspect most of them involve store-bought cake layers and custard powder. And that’s ok too, but making it from scratch isn’t difficult and doesn’t require a lot of time either. Just plan ahead!

Strawberry Cream Cake:

-Cake layers
-500 g strawberries, divided
-300 ml cream (full-fat), whipped with 1 tbsp sugar
-vanilla custard

For the cake layers:

200 g eggs (I use four medium-large ones)
100 g sugar
100 g flour

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Butter and line a 24 cm springform cake pan. Beat the eggs and the sugar until very very fluffy. (Carefully fold in the flour.  Pour into your prepared pan, and bake for 15-20 minutes. It should look golden brown and have started to shrink away from the edges. Use a cake tester to check for doneness.

Take it out of the oven, release from the pan, place on a rack and place the springform inverted on top while it cools.

For the custard:

3 egg yolks
250 ml milk
1 vanilla bean
20 g cornstarch
60 g sugar
15 g butter

Score the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds into a saucepan. Add the milk – and the bean – and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and let the milk infuse for ten minutes. (Put a lid on top.) Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks with cornstarch and sugar. When the milk is done, remove the vanilla bean, and pour the hot milk over the egg mixture. Mix well, and pour back into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring CONSTANTLY. It will thicken a lot all of a sudden. Remove from heat, and quickly beat in the butter.

Move to a clean container. Cool quickly, and let it sit for at least 3-4 hours in the fridge. After that, whisk it really well so it becomes smooth and silky.

To assemble the cake:
Purée half of the strawberries, about 250 g. Slice the rest.

Cut the cake in two layers. Spread one layer with the strawberry puree, and the cut side of the second layer with the vanilla custard. (You might have a little more than you need of both puree and custard, in which case I recommend mixing them together and freezing in a popsicle mold!) Put the layers on top of each other, the fillings facing each other. (This is just to make the spreading easier – you can also just top the puree with the custard, but I find that much messier.)

Place on your cake platter. Use a little cream to smooth out the top of the cake. Transfer the rest of your whipped cream to a piping bag fitted with a large open star nozzle. Pipe straight up along the edge, finishing with a small star on top of the cake. Repeat all around. You’ll have JUST enough cream, so pipe carefully!

Decorate with the strawberries. I like to leave one whole in the middle, and place the cut berries as petals all around it.

Chill until serving. It’s best on the same day as it’s made, but you can make everything except for the whipped cream and decorations a day ahead. Just wrap well in plastic.

 

5 Steps to Making Your Own Midsummer’s Head Wreath

If you saw my post over the weekend about how THE MIDSUMMER’S COUNTDOWN IS ON, you know that I’m pretty excited. One of the things I’ve been most excited about are the head wreaths.

My Swedish friends would probably laugh at me if I called them exotic, but to be honest, there is something so old-fashioned and nostalgic about creating flower head wreaths that they do seem foreign, enchanting, and even, well, even exotic to me.

That said, it’s all good and well to want a flower head wreath of your very own, but I had no idea how to make one.

“Oh, if only I were a Disney princess,” I thought to myself, wistfully, while standing at my window and gazing out over my kingdom courtyard. “Then all I would have to do is stand here and absent-mindedly sing as I gaze, and a host of forest animals would come bearing flowers, and then probably some remarkably humanoid mice would assemble them for me, and a team of birds would assembly to carry it to me and place it on my head, whistling industrially all the while. If only! If only.”

And then I sighed and gazed out at the courtyard again, longing for an answer to my plight.

Fortunately, I was jarred out of my reverie by my friend Anna calling, reminding me that we had already discussed the head wreath situation and had decided to meet today to do a pre-Midsummer’s trial run. Phew. Thanks to Anna, magical woodland creatures are not a necessary part of the head wreath process. Anyone can make them in five simple steps.

5 Steps to Making Your Own Midsummer’s Head Wreath

1. Collect flowers… lots of them

You need a serious amount of flowers—way more than I thought would be necessary. For the two of us, we probably used one full grocery bag of assorted wildflowers, grasses, and clippings from bushes. I thought that maybe we needed only flowers with long stems or with big petals, but even small, short flowers can be woven into your wreath. Just go for what you think will look good.

One small caveat: if you can, look for flowers that look like they won’t wilt right away, although it’s not always easy to tell what will hold up and what won’t. The jasmine bushes are in full bloom right now and the flowers look and smell amazing, but Anna told me that the flowers start to lose their petals almost immediately. Perhaps the best thing you can do is collect a wide range of flowers the first time around so you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t as you do it.

2. Start with a small bouquet and a long thread

Choose one large flower to act as sort of an anchor, then group 4-5 flowers around it. Tightly wind a thread around them a couple of times. Take a few more flowers, repeat. You’re on your way!

Alternately, you can start with a frame made out of wire or a tree branch. This might make it easier because you can measure your head size ahead of time, but it’s also an added step that you don’t really need. We made ours without frames, but if you really want to make sure that you end up with a wearable wreath, it might be a good idea.

Flowers, thread, scissors, and voila! You've got a flower head wreath. Photos: Kate Wiseman and Anna Bylander.

3. Build down and out

Continue adding flowers, grasses, leaves, and whatever else you find to your wreath, wrapping the thread tightly around each batch of additions to secure it in place. You can make a really thick, fluffy head wreath or a thinner, more delicate one. I went for the thick and fluffy effect, but it was really hard to bend it into a circle by the end. Anna made a thinner one and had a much easier time making it into a wearable wreath. Next time, I’ll probably go for the thinner wreath so that it’s easier to shape and lighter to wear.

Midsummer wreath in process. Photos: Kate Wiseman and Anna Bylander.

4. Loop back towards the beginning and tie the ends together

As you’re working, start bending your garland of flowers in a ring shape. When you get to the point at which you want to finish your wreath, use your thread to attach that long anchor flower that you started with to the base of your flowers. The long flower should mostly cover the stems at the bottom, and if it doesn’t, don’t worry too much—that can be the part that goes at the back of your head!

5. Smile! (and spritz)

You’re done! Place your flowers on top of your head and smile! (No whistling birds necessary.) Lightly spray your wreath with water throughout the day to make it last longer and brighter. Depending on how big and into what shape you make your flower wreaths, you can also use them on the table as decoration, as a temporary wreath from your door, or as a hanging decoration from your tent. As they say in Swedish, “Det är bara fantasin som sätter gränser!” In English: the only limit is your imagination.

The final product: two satisfied girls and a beautiful flower head wreath. (Mine became more of a garland... newbie mistake!) Photos: Kate Wiseman and Nils Bylander.

Now onto the aquavit…

There will be more Midsummer-themed posts coming this week! If you missed the introduction and background to Midsummer celebrations, check out my last post, THE COUNTDOWN IS ON. (Like I said, I’m a little excited about this…) And if there’s anything you’re curious about or would like to see covered, be sure to leave me a comment letting me know!