This blog post was updated on August 11, 2021.
When I was in Sweden last summer, I remember my guide casually pointing out a rather strange looking construction going up in Stockholm. “Oh, that’s the maypole for Midsummer,” she said nonchalantly. Little did I know the Midsummer celebration in Sweden called for the construction of maypoles weeks in advance.
Sweden’s Midsummer celebration is a national holiday in which the entire country celebrates the longest day of the year. As my guide told me, Swedes have to soak up every ounce of sunshine given in the summer due to the long winters. To appreciate the sun, they break out into party mode around June 21st. Most Midsummer celebrations in Sweden begin the Saturday around this time and last well into the morning, as the sun never seems to set. Complete with singing and dancing, Sweden’s Midsummer celebration is one of traditions, legends and a rich history. If you are considering hopping a flight to Sweden for Midsummer or attending next year’s celebration, here is a basic guide to understanding this monumental event in Sweden.
A Bit of History: To understand the Swedish Midsummer celebration, you must travel back into pagan traditions for the Summer Solstice. The pagan method involved a bonfire to welcome summertime and the season of fertility. The day was long considered a magical night by the ancients due to its great length. The tradition was to dress up and decorate the home in greenery. Sweden’s Midsummer roots stem from 6th century A.D. traditions. Overtime, the celebration was centered around commemorating Saint John the Baptist on June 24th. Today, Swedes come together for Midsummer celebrations on the closest Saturday to that day.
Legends and Traditions: The Swedish Midsummer celebration comes with a whole list of traditions and a few legends. Typically on the day, Swedes will go dancing. Many towns arrange for special dances complete with folk costumes. As it never really gets dark at the Midsummer celebration, most carry their partying over into the morning hours. Another tradition for Sweden’s Midsummer is a fleeing from the cities. Most Swedes head for smaller towns and summer cottages to be outdoors for the event. In terms of legends, it is said that if a young woman picks seven different kinds of flowers and puts them under her pillow on Midsummer Day, she will supposedly dream of her future husband.
It’s All About The Maypole: A Midsummer celebration in Sweden would be nothing without the maypole. Swedes usually gather just before the Midsummer celebration with flowers and wreaths to adorn a maypole. The key component of the celebration is usually raised in an open space outdoors. The dancing for Midsummer often begins at the maypole as children and adults carry out a traditional ring dance around it. The maypole tradition for the Swedish Midsummer most likely began as early as the 16th century. It was modeled after a German tradition.
What’s on the Menu?: You won’t find traditional barbecue food a Swedish Midsummer celebration. Rather, the event carries a strict menu of pickled herring with boiled potatoes with fresh dill, sour cream and raw red onion. Some Midsummer celebrations will follow the dish with grilled salmon or spare ribs. For dessert, strawberries with cream are always a classic. And perhaps most importantly, for drink, the Midsummer celebration keeps the cold beer and schnapps flowing.
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