Midsummer – one of the most important days in the Swedish calendar. Why? Because it is the middle of summer? Certainly not! For Sweden, Midsummer marks the beginning, the start of the brief but glorious summer season, a time for leisure, a time for long romantic walks on endless light evenings. Many workers choose to take their long summer holidays in Sweden at this time of year.
Perhaps because of its relative brevity, the Swedes are determined to get the very last drop of enjoyment from summertime. Beginning in May, summer proper bursts into life in June in a riot of luscious greens and wildflower meadows.
No self-respecting Swede would miss the annual Midsummer celebration. The woes and worries of city life are abandoned, and families head for their summer houses to make preparations for the festivities.
Regardless of the actual date of the longest day, Midsummer is always celebrated on a Friday. The day begins with families fanning out into the surrounding forests to collect flowers to make wreaths. These are then hung upon the maypole, which will form the centrepiece of the day’s (and night’s!) celebrations.
On all occasions, the Swedes love to sing, and Midsummer is no exception. Ring dances are performed around the maypole to the accompaniment of screams of delight from the children and peels of laughter from the adults.
As the afternoon wears on and the dancers tire, it is time to eat – and what a feast! A typical Midsummer menu will include various kinds of pickled herring (flavoured with onion, garlic, tomato, mustard sauce, and a myriad of other varieties – everyone has their favourite, ours is the mustard!), boiled new potatoes with freshly-picked dill, soured cream and red onion. Fish always features strongly in Swedish cuisine, and the next course may well include salmon or perhaps a meat dish such as spare ribs. To follow, the summer’s first crop of strawberries will be proudly brought to the table and eagerly devoured.
Of course, the smörgåsbord would not be complete without the traditional accompaniment of cold beer and schnapps – but once again, singing is very much in evidence. You can’t drink a schnapps without singing!
As the sun descends (very briefly!) towards the horizon, it is once more time for dancing, but this time of a rather more sedate and romantic kind. At this point many Swedes will head for a jetty beside the lake or archipelago water to for an evening of dancing.
It is hard not to feel romantic as the long warm evening wears on and the scents of nighttime fill the air. According to tradition, girls wishing to marry should pick seven different types of flowers as they make their way home on Midsummer’s Eve, and put them beneath their pillows as they sleep. If all goes according to plan, their dreams should be filled with visions of their future husband – a Midsummer Night’s Dream!
This year’s Midsummer celebrations in Sweden 22nd June will be on Friday, and we at Nature Travels would like to wish you all a very “Glad Midsommar” (“glard midsommar”) – Happy Midsummer, and may your dreams come true!
The Nature Travels Team