This is a guest post by Sofia of As We Travel.
The 25th of June is fast approaching, and in Sweden that means it is almost time for the Midsummer holiday. Midsummer is the biggest celebration of the year in Sweden and is a tradition that celebrates the summer solstice (the longest day of the year). It dates back hundreds of years and was used to ensure a good harvest and the fertilization of the ground.
Traditionally, young people pick bouquets of nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. However, you will see many adults wearing these flowers too. While the roots of this holiday may be about the harvest, today Swedes use the day as an excuse to have a massive party, spend the day outdoors with friends and family, and celebrate the summer weather. After all, we don’t have many warm days here in Sweden.
The centerpiece of this celebration, and the most recognized symbol of midsummer, is the maypole. This a tall green pole covered with many leaves and flowers, with a ring of flowers hanging on each side. The maypole is actually a phallic symbol that has been stuck into the ground to fertilize the dirt for next year’s harvest. After we stick the pole in the ground, we do what anyone else would do- we dance around it of course. We dance around the maypole in circles doing strange dance moves, pretending to be frogs, crows and other animals, and other games. Dancing around the the maypole is one of the most time honored Swedish Midsummer traditions there is.
Snaps, Rotten Fish and Dirty Songs
After dancing, comes the eating, drinking and singing – you will find around any midsummer table a huge array of pickled herring, potatoes, chives mixed with sour cream, and more schnapps than you’ll ever see in your life. This is the most important thing on the table. Schnapps are small bottles of really strong alcohol, which is designed to be drunk as a shot. One very important rule is that before every shot, someone (or everyone, it doesn’t really matter) sings a dirty song. Since we drink A LOT of schnapps, we also sing a lot. Singing adds to the festive spirit of the holiday and, as the evening proceeds, the songs get dirtier and the words become more slurred. (I told you this is a celebration after all!)
The second most important item on the table after the schnapps is the pickled and fermented herring. Fish is very important aspect about life in Sweden and herring is the most commonly eaten fish. While the fish smells even worse than it looks, appearances are deceiving and the fish is delicious. There’s no good celebration without food and just as a BBQ is important to the American July 4th celebrations, herring is important to our midsummer festival.
Swedish Midsummer is the one real festival we have in Sweden. It’s the day we celebrate the summer, enjoy the nice weather, drink, eat, sing, and dance. It’s our day to live without rules and where anything goes. If you are coming to Sweden, coordinating your arrival with this holiday should be your top priority. Try to celebrate outside and away from the city. Midsummer is, after all, about nature, the warm weather, and the coming summer.