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Beyond the Lone Islands

Friday, 19 June 2009

Midsummer's Eve

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897

In Sweden, Midsummer's Eve was formerly celebrated on June 23th, but since the 1950's on the Friday between June 19th and June 25th (and Midsummer's Day on the Saturday). It is probably the most uniquely Swedish of all our holidays. The main celebrations take place on the Friday, and traditionally include raising and dancing around a huge maypole (majstång), nowadays usually called midsummerpole (midsommarstång), decorated with leaves and flowers. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year.

Folk music is played and some people (especially folk musicians and dancers) wear traditional costumes. The menu usually includes pickled herring (which I never much liked, though), the first potatoes of the season, and the first strawberries. Many people also drink a lot of alcohol; but alcohol was never part of my own family traditions. Actually, come to think of it, neither was the maypole nor the dancing...! In my teens and later, though, I sometimes took part in bigger midsummer festivities, maypole dancing included. I especially remember the first midsummer I was allowed to spend with friends, and stay out all night. (I must have been 18 because I had got my driver's license; so I suppose no one could forbid me, really...) At that age especially, one is supposed to stay up all night (it's the shortest night of the year) and watch the sun rise early in the morning. It was exciting mainly because it was the first time. It was also cold and damp and a lot of mosquitoes...

Traditionally, Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strong, so it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. For example, to pick a bouquet of seven or nine different flowers and put them under your pillow and then in your dream you would see your future spouse.

This year, I'm quite satisfied "celebrating" by just having a quiet day to myself, after the past very intense weeks. It's been raining most of the day anyway. I had chicken instead of herring (which, as I said above, I never liked), but I did have strawberries and icecream.
The neighbourhood is very quiet, I suppose most of the neighbours have gone away to celebrate.
At this age, I have no desire whatsoever to stay up all night; on the contrary, I very much hope I'll be able to go to sleep at my usual bedtime, and not wake up until well past the sunrise... ;-)


Dan Felstead said...

WOW! Dawntreader...this is really neat. I love to hear about the customs and MidSummer's Eve really does sound like an age right out of Tolkien or Lewis! I love tradition...thanks for sharing.


rae said...

How interesting! This is our longest night of the year; I've never even considered what it must be like on the other side of the world. Thanks for such a great post!

California Girl said...

I guess a number of European countries have somewhat similar traditions? I'm trying to think of one here in the U.S. but cannot. Our uniquely American festivals are mostly patriotic, I think. I seem only to think of July 4th, Memorial Day, President's Day (used to be Lincoln & Washington birthdays, separately). We enjoy Cinco de Mayo and St. Patty's but those are borrowed, Somebody help me out here!


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