Midsummer is such an important and well-celebrated day in Sweden that many mistake it for the country’s national day. Midsummer’s Eve festivities take place around the summer solstice — the day of the year with the longest daylight hours— and its history can be traced back to the time of the Vikings long before the country of Sweden was born. While the traditions might differ in different regions in Sweden, a few things are commonplace.
Something that makes the Swedish Midsummer stand out from neighbouring countries like Finland is the Midsummer maypole—the most symbolic part of the day. The maypole is a tall cross with rings, fully covered in leaves and decorated with flowers and ribbons. There are slight regional differences to the way they are decorated but the general form and design is the same, and they all symbolize Mother Earth’s fertility. The bigger the celebration, the bigger the maypole.
Midsummer preparations starts with putting the maypole structure together and erecting it on the ground. Once up, the music and dancing begins. Swedish folk music, usually played with instruments like the violin and key harp, serves as a backdrop for the dancing. Participants of all ages sometimes do silly dances like the små grodorna (the little frogs) where everyone pretend to be frogs.
There are two traditional styles for dressing up for Midsummer: folk and the white dress/shirt.
There are different folk dresses and suits depending on one’s heritage as they always represent one’s home village via intricate woven patterns that symbolises that specific place. They are usually handwoven by artisans. They take time to make and are quite expensive, so they are only used on special occasions like on Midsummer’s Eve.
The simpler, but almost as traditional alternative, is the white dress. As many don’t own their own folk dress, most women tend to wear white dresses instead, while men often also have white or light blue shirts.
What is common to all regardless of how they’re dressed is the flower crown on their heads. The crowns are usually at the same time the maypole is being decorated.
There’s no Swedish celebration without coffee, and during Midsummer, it is served for breakfast, lunch, afternoon fika, and the evening barbeque. Food-wise, one can have whatever they want for breakfast, but lunch is a bit more traditional which is often a cold buffet of summer potatoes, pickled herring in several varieties, knäckebröd (or Swedish hard bread), and platters of more common food items. Everything is served on a long table with beer, spiced spirits or snaps. Lunch is the most important meal of the day as it is served at the time when the sun is at its peak and is often longer due to the festive spirit. There are also specific songs that go with each snaps.
Lunch is followed by fika, which includes coffee, strawberries, whipped cream, and often strawberry cake. Dinner, often set as a barbeque, goes afterwards.
A lot of activities are often planned throughout the day. After dancing around the maypole, it’s common to have some games, which are often set up on a competitive level between friends and family. Different teams get to compete in 10-kamp with several different challenges such as jump sack or racing with a spoon in one’s mouth while balancing an egg on it while making sure it doesn’t break.
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