Today one of Sweden’s most cherished festivities of the year is celebrated, Midsummer. You may have seen the horror movie “Midsommar” from 2019 and thought of the celebrations as a sect-like festivity? This is far from the truth, but there are several cherished traditions that the Swedes follow during the celebrations. This beloved holiday celebrated on the weekend closest to the summer solstice, falls somewhere between 20-26 June. It holds deep roots in Swedish history and is a time when people come together to revel in the beauty of nature and welcome the much-awaited summer season.
So what is Swedish Midsummer?
Swedish Midsummer, or “Midsommar” as it is locally known, is a celebration of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In the days leading up to the summer solstice, the nights become progressively brighter, with a twilight that extends throughout the night. As the solstice approaches, the sun barely dips below the horizon, resulting in an extended period of daylight. In some areas, such as Kiruna, the sun can be visible for 24 hours, creating a surreal landscape where the distinction between night and day becomes blurred.
Community and Togetherness
Midsummer is a time for Swedes to connect with family, friends, and neighbours. Communities come together and organize public events, including music concerts, games, and traditional performances. It’s a time when people set aside their routines and embrace the relaxed atmosphere, engaging in heartfelt conversations, laughter, and merriment.
The centrepiece of the Midsummer celebrations is the Maypole, a tall wooden pole decorated with flowers and greenery. People gather around it to partake in lively dances, including the famous “små grodorna” (little frogs) dance, where participants imitate frogs by hopping and singing a cheerful tune.
Flower crowns and folklore
Another popular Midsummer tradition is the making and wearing of flower crowns. They are typically handcrafted from a variety of fresh flowers and greenery, woven together to form a circular crown that is worn on the head. Additionally, folklore suggests that with the help of the night's magical powers, young unmarried women who pick seven different types of flowers and place them under their pillows on Midsummer’s Eve will dream of their future spouse.
Feasting and Traditions
Swedish Midsummer is also a time of indulgence in traditional delights. A Swedish-style buffet called “Smörgåsbord” is laden with an array of dishes, including pickled herring, boiled potatoes, gravlax (cured salmon), meatballs, and a variety of savoury pies. Strawberries take centre stage when it comes to desserts, either in the form of cakes or simply enjoyed with some sugar and whipped cream. The feast is usually accompanied by “snaps”, a specific alcoholic beverage called “aquavit” or “schnapps” in English, and it is customary to raise a toast and take a shot alongside traditional songs and cheers.
When partaking in snaps, there are specific customs and rituals that are often followed. Before taking the shot, a traditional song called “snapsvisa” is sung. These songs are lively and usually involve humorous or lighthearted lyrics related to the spirit or the occasion. After the song, everyone raises their glasses in a collective toast, making eye contact with fellow participants (it is essential that everyone takes the shot at the same time), often accompanied by the phrase “Skål!” meaning “Cheers!” in Swedish, then the shot is consumed in one swift motion.
Snaps are often repeated throughout the meal, with different flavoured aquavits available to complement the various dishes served - and if someone suddenly starts singing a snapsvisa, it’s time for everyone to take a shot!
The celebrations usually start around lunchtime and continue until the early hours of the morning... Happy Midsummer from Rouse!