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Every year the sun reaches its highest point in the sky on June 20, 21 or 22. In some regions of Scandinavia – for example in the northern part of Sweden – it doesn’t set at all on this day, this is called midnight sun.
In the south, dusk falls at around 10 p.m. I come from the southern part of Sweden, Malmö, which is the country´s third biggest city. I have always celebrated Midsummer and it’s actually my favorite Swedish tradition with a lot of tasty food, especially the strawberries, and games. It’s quite common that I celebrate Midsummer in the countryside, because it’s cozy and a break from the mundane everyday life as an employee in customer service at Mercedes-Benz.
So why do we Swedes love our summer solstice so much? Let us explore a typical midsummer festival together: Glad Midsommar – have a good midsummer.
What is celebrated on this midsummer day?
The Midsummer celebration in northern Europe goes back to a Germanic tradition, where people celebrated the arrival of the summer solstice. Nowadays, the focus at Midsummer lies on enjoying the warmth of the summer season and the long hours of daylight. My experience of the Midsummer weather differs a lot. The weather is quite unpredictable and you need to be prepared for both, warm weather, rain and sun shine all in the same day.
It’s a festival dedicated to nature and light, where friends and family come together to enjoy the good things in life. During this time, the big cities are practically empty, because a lot of residents leave to spend midsummer in the countryside. Let’s not talk about traffic before Midsummer, it’s horrible!
Midsummer is always celebrated on the Friday in June that is closest to the summer solstice. Since year 1953, Swedish law has prescribed that this holiday must be between June 19 and June 25. This year the festival will take place on June 21 and I’m going to celebrate the day with 35 of my friends just outside Malmö.
Our Chairman of the Board of Management Ola Källenius also celebrates the midsummer festival:
I come from the southern coastal town of Västervik. It is a small town on the Baltic Sea, which is also known as Ostkustens Pärla – Pearl of the East Coast. There, the whole town is also celebrating Midsummer. Midsummer has a long tradition and for many Swedes, after Christmas, it is the most important holiday of the year. Midsummer is very enjoyable not only for the locals, but also for guests. Trevlig Midsommar!
The traditions around the midsummer festival in Sweden
We traditionally begin the midsummer festival in the morning, binding wreaths of wild flowers, or “Blomsterkrans”, with the people you are celebrating with. According to an old tradition, which still lives on today and, which is a way of telling the future of love to come, one can pick seven kinds of flowers and lay it under the pillow during midsummer night. You may dream of your life companion after this ritual.
At around midday, it is time to go and dance around the “Midsommarstång” or “Majstång” – the maypole is dressed with leaves of the birch tree and blue, red and white flowers. Local government arranges at least one public celebration were everyone from the smallest child to “Mormor” and “Morfar” – grandma and grandpa – is welcome to join.
We all assemble around the pole. But why a maypole in June? In this case the word May – Maj in Swedish – doesn’t refer to the month. Rather, the name originates from the ancient term “Maja”. This means decorated with flowers and aptly describes our “maypole”.
All the afternoon activities are centered on the “maypole”. We bring picnic food, dance and sing, and play different games together: Everything is included, from sack-races to egg-and-spoon races. Dancing and singing are key components of a Swedish midsummer festival.
The best-known midsummer song is the Små grodorna song, which talks about small frogs. Every Swede anywhere in the world has sung it at least once and danced to it at some point. The dance is simple: Everyone holds hands and dances around the “maypole”. This tradition is firmly embedded in our culture. Whenever I think about it, I am always reminded of joyful times.
Rustic traditional cuisine at midsummer
In the evening, the families leave the festival site to enjoy an evening meal with friends. We Swedes like our rustic, traditional cuisine especially when celebrating midsummer. With fish as an absolute must.
From pickled herrings in all variations to salmon that is marinaded for days in salt and spices; and from spare ribs to “Köttbullar”, the Swedish minced meat balls. The midsummer table includes various other delights. Potatoes with dill are served as side dishes.
The dessert is fresh strawberries with cream or strawberry cake. This is why we always hope for a good strawberry harvest, because the meal is only half as good without our beloved Swedish strawberries. A fun side fact is that the Swedish strawberries three doubles in price just before midsummer, but a lot of people gladly pay that amount because nothing taste better than Swedish strawberries.
After the meal, we sit together until late at night, telling stories, laughing and singing. And then, eventually, another enjoyable midsummer festival comes to an end.