|Dance around the maypole during the Midsummer celebration, in Åmmeberg, Sweden, 2003. Photo by Wiglaf.|
Originally, Midsummer's Eve (midsommarafton) and the following day which is called Midsummer's Day (midsommardagen) was a celebration of the summer solstice (which took place on June 21st this year).
Since the solstice moves around a bit year to year, and to make sure the holiday falls on a weekend, Midsummer's Eve and Day now take place on a Friday and Saturday between the 19th and 26th of June. It is arguably the most popular holiday in Sweden.
How to celebrate Midsummer's Eve
A traditional celebration of Midsummer's Eve requires:
- a midsummer pole, also known as a maypole, which is decorated with fresh green leaves and branches and lots of flowers
- children and adults dancing around the pole singing traditional songs like "Små grodorna" (The little frogs)
- warm weather, though as often as not, it will either be raining or too chilly for summer dresses: I vividly remember wearing my winter coat for at least one childhood Midsummer's Eve
- flower-picking: specifically you're supposed to pick 7 kinds of flowers and put them underneath your pillow in order to dream of you spouse-to-be
- Swedish flags raised on the flag-pole and flower wreaths in people's hair
- lots of traditional food and drink, preferably eaten outdoors, even if the mosquitoes are trying to devour everyone, and even if it's really too cold
What to eat & drink
Lots of dishes can be served at a Midsummer's Eve dinner, but three things are pretty much obligatory:
- Some form of pickled herring, whether it's with mustard sauce, with sherry sauce, matjessill with sour cream and chives, or some other variety
- New potatoes boiled with dill and served with butter and salt
- Fresh strawberries in some form, whether just served with whipped cream, or as a strawberry cake
Why kids love it
Because they get to stay up late (no one goes to bed early on Midsummer's Eve), decorate the Midsummer's pole, eat strawberries and play outside. Also, there are usually lots of other treats too like cake, cookies, candy and ice cream.
Why it's beautiful (even if you're freezing and being eaten alive by mosquitoes)
If you're lucky enough to be celebrating Midsummer's Eve somewhere by the water, somewhere with green trees and flowers, and maybe even a clear sky, it can be absolutely magical. The sun does set, if you're not north of the arctic circle, but the night still doesn't go absolutely dark.
Even after midnight, there's this bluish twilight that just deepens without any real darkness, and then starts to brighten again.
If you have a chance to experience it, it's definitely worth doing so. Just bring that extra-warm jacket and some mosquito repellent just in case. And remember to say "Glad midsommar!" (meaning "Happy Midsummer!") to everyone you meet.
For some pickled herring recipes, try these websites:
- Mustard herring
- Swedish herring salad
- Glasmästarsill/Glassblower's herring
- Inlagd sill/Traditional pickled herring
Finally: Glad midsommar to all my Swedish and non-Swedish friends and readers!
Photo thanks to user Wiglaf at Wikimedia Commons.