Celebrating Midsummer: A Swedish Tradition
Photograph: Midsummer celebrations at Årsnäs, Sweden. The Midsummer festivities begin with dances around the Maypole in the early afternoon, followed by competitions in games, including nail hammering, log balancing, and darts. In the evening there is a dinner at the dance floor by the meadow including the year's first potatoes, soused herring and pickled herring, chives, sour cream, the first strawberries of the season.
Say the word "midsummer" and likely the first thing that comes to mind is a fuzzy recollection of Puck, fairies, and a host of mishaps through William Shakespeare's enchanted woods. But countries around the world celebrate Midsummer's Eve, and many in ways much more lively than sitting through a staging of Shakespeare's play. And arguably no one does Midsummer better than Sweden. In fact, nearly all European countries celebrate the holiday, but Sweden takes it so seriously they nearly replaced Midsummer's Eve as the National Day of Sweden.
As part of our Scandinavian summer, here is the enchanting history behind the Swedish festival traditions, with ideas for celebrating Midsummer with your family.
WHERE MIDSUMMER COMES FROM:
Midsummer means precisely what you'd think: it marks the middle of summer, or the summer solstice. This is the longest day and shortest night of the year. In pre-Christian times, After Christianity spread through Europe, Midsummer came to be associated with John the Baptist's birth, and so is also called St. John's Day. Midsummer was considered a time of magic, with all sorts of mystical, fantastical, and unexplainable things happening from dawn until long after dusk.
Much of the magic of midsummer was believed to come from nature. Flowers, leaves, and forests were thought to have special powers this day of the year. People would harness nature's magic by weaving flowers into crowns, thus bringing health and prosperity to the wearer in the winter months to come. Tradition also holds that if single girls sleep with flowers under their pillows, they'll dream of their future husband.
Midsummer celebrations also feature games of skill and brawn, like tug of war, potato sack races, darts, and log-sawing.
Not only are people's head adorned with flowers, but the maypole is as well! Festival-goers wrap the pole in greenery, raise the pole, then dance around it. This was said to bring prosperity, good health, and a rich harvest.
It is believed that the maypole tradition was brought over from Germany, and had to be tweaked a little to account for Sweden's colder temperatures. In Germany, the maypole could go up May 1st, strung with flowers and leaves, to welcome summer. Sweden is still quite cold in May, so they postponed its use until Midsummer, when the fields were loud with blossoms and greenery.
Tradition held that on this night, as summer began to turn again into autumn, evil spirits would run rampant and dragons would poison the village's wells. To protect against such demons and dragons, people would light bonfires.
HERRING, NEW POTATOES, & STRAWBERRIES:
The day's festivities are tied up nicely with a traditional Scandinavian meal of herring, potatoes, and the season's first strawberries. Fish, potatoes, and strawberries are local staples in the sea-faring region of Scandinavia; if you're celebrating Midsummer elsewhere (and have a hard time getting your hands on herring) keep the heart of the tradition alive by selecting foods local to your own area.
With these ideas, we hope you'll create a little bit of midsummer magic for your friends or family this year! We'd love to see the moments you made via Instagram, by tagging @heirloomartco.
And our little bit of magic to you this summer solstice is 10% off our Scandinavian Summer collection June 23-24 with the code MIDSUMMER. This happily includes our collection of Elsa Beskow dishes, bursting with her illustrations of Swedish flowers and plants. Enjoy!