Ladies and gentlemen, we are now officially within one week of Midsummer. Hallelujah!
This will be my fourth summer in Sweden, but I have only been to one Midsummer celebration before. Actually, it was all the endless talk about Midsummer that served as a reason to visit Sweden for the first time. I was studying in Italy at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, and I kept hearing about this amazing day from all my Swedish friends. When my friend Josefin, a native Stockholmer, invited me to join her and her friends out in the archipelago for the celebration, I was all about it. Surprised to learn that there was an archipelago, but enthusiastic all the same.
Dear Josefin, Princess of Midsummer, yes I will come visit you on an island and eat large amounts of delicious herring and dance around Maypoles with you. Anytime. Photo: Kate Wiseman.
So on the day before Midsummer in 2008, I jumped on a Ryan Air flight from Italy to Stockholm, arriving in the city around midnght, just in time to catch the sun making an obligatory nod towards the horizon before starting to climb back up in the sky. Welcome to the land of the midnight sun.
The conditions were perfect for a terrible, terrible let down. I had traveled from one end of the continent to another to take part in super-hyped day with a bunch of people I didn’t know (except for my friend, of course) for a holiday whose festivities are largely dependent on the weather being good. And yet, despite all that, the day was perfect.
Garlands of flowers for your hair and maypoles to dance around: what more could you ask for? Photo: Kate Wiseman.
The weather was flawless: warm and sunny on an island where the sky stretches for miles. I discovered for the first time just how well the general Swedish population speaks English. A Maypole was erected, and while I didn’t know what was being sung, I hopped around said Maypole in a circle with the rest of my new acquaintances while they sang and laughed. (Later I was told that I was a little frog, hopping around.)
Drinking songs were also sung, and great quantities of bitter-tasting aquavit were drunk. I had my first taste of herring, and for a few moments I very seriously considered taking a swim before a tentative toe stuck in the water sent me racing for the comfort of blankets. And while it got a little dim late at night, the sun never really set.
This is the sweet life. Midsummer food and the most perfect Swedish cottage of all time. Photo: Kate Wiseman.
Now, three years later, I get to do it again. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Here’s the skinny on Midsummer (or Midsommar, if you want to be authentic about it). It is yet another of the many holidays with its roots in pagan traditions, but this one does not have a Christian tradition that was superimposed over it. It’s a good old-fashioned sun-worshipping/fertility/thank God it’s summer festival, originally celebrated on the summer solstice (June 21) but now celebrated on the Friday closest to the solstice.
Traditional celebrations involve a very distinctive Maypole (think fertility again), lots of food, and even more aquavit–a very strong, flavored liquor. I’m sure our resident food blogger will be talking more about the menu and drink choices, but I’ll be covering other Midsummer traditions in more detail throughout the week… stay tuned for more!