Midsommar is an annual highlight (no pun intended) for all Northern Europeans as it is a celebration of the summer solstice. The customs differ across countries and the celebration has different names, such as Juhannus in Finland, Jónsmessa on Iceland and S:t Hans dag in Denmark and Norway.
North of the Polar Circle, the sun doesn’t set during Midsummer and in Sweden it is a national holiday, celebrated with all sorts of, sometimes strange, traditions. The most important one is dancing around the Midsommarstång(Midsummer pole). The pole is covered in birch leaves and flowers and then raised in the backyard or on a public field. If you think the pole resembles male genitalia, you are actually not far off. The story behind the design of the pole is that the pole symbolizes re-fertilization of the soil. Why the Swedes dance around it is not really known but most likely it has to do with celebrating the light and promoting a rich harvest.
Many people wear wreaths made of twigs and wild flowers and the making of the wreath is also a tradition. When it comes to food there’s a lot of it. Some dishes would seem strange to outsiders, for example inlagd sill(pickled herring) or surströmming(fermented Baltic herring), which are common Midsummer dishes. When it comes to beverages, the Swedish snaps (a strong alcoholic shot) is a mandatory accessory at the dinner table.
Celebrate like a Swede
# Have a nice breakfast.
If you feel like really kicking off the Midsommer celebration, why not have a glass of champagne?
#Go pick flowers. Lots of them.
You will need flowers in abundance, as well as birch, for the Midsummer pole and for the wreaths. Start by tying the birch twigs in a circle. Use thread or steal wire and place flowers around the wreath. The same method is used on the Midsummer pole.
#Have lunch outside with other families and friends.
Usually there’s a public celebration close by with family friendly activities such as dancing around the pole, music and competitions. Bring a picnic basket!
#Prepare your dinner.
Some will eat fermented Baltic herring, which smells awful but tastes salty and delicious. Eat it on Swedish flatbread with freshly boiled potato, red onion, sour cream and if you like something sweet to take the edge off – add Gudbrandsdalsost. 2Traditional Midsummer foods are fish and shellfish, boiled potatoes, cheese, crispbread, sour cream and Västerbottenpaj – a quiche made with cheese from Västerbotten. Strawberries are mandatory for dessert and if you celebrate with Swedes, there will be beer and snaps for all adults.
Drink plenty of water to manage the salty food.
Bring your umbrella and rain coat – the weather in Sweden is unpredictable at best.
Pick seven different wild flowers and put them under your pillow. You will dream about the one you are meant to marry.
Curious about the Midsommar celebration and the traditional songs? Click this link to learn more!