Midsommar in Sweden 2017

Summer in Sweden is short.  During the month of June, the Swedish landscape is lush and green, beckoning the summer season.  The word Midsommar to a Swede holds joy and visions of sunny meadows, shimmering waters, music from an accordion or fiddle, and dancing around the måjstång.

In agrarian times, summertime was welcomed as it was the season of fertility.  It was a celebration of sommarsolståndet (summer solstice) when the day is longer than any other day of the year, and the night shorter.  In the Christian tradition, Midsummer commemorates John the Baptist's birth on June 24, the Feast of St.John.  Since the 1950s Midsummers day in Sweden is celebrated on the Saturday following Midsummers Eve.  Midsummer festivals have become one of the most celebrated of all traditional festivities, after Christmas.

Midsommars afton or Midsummers Eve is also believed to be a magical night, full of powerful magic and a time for love.  People liked to visit holy springs to bathe and drink the water and amuse themselves with games and dancing.  These visits were a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the River Jordan.  Young people ate salted porridge or dream porridge to help them dream of their future spouses.  They would also gather 7 or 9 species of local wildflowers to put under their pillow this night and hoped to dream of their future soulmates.  It was said that on this night water was turned into wine, and ferns into wildflowers.  Many plants acquired healing powers.  You could also find treasure by studying how moon beams fell on Midsummers Eve.  During the early hours of Midsummers Day, folks would drag their sheets in the morning dew.  The dew was believed to have special healing properties and was incorporated into their food, their household, and even with the livestock to promote good health for the coming year.

The midsummer-pole symbolizes both the male and the female.  In pagan times people dressed up as green men clad in ferns.  They also decorated their houses, farms, and even thier tools with foilage in addition to raising leafy maypoles.  The word maj as used in majstång has nothing to do with the month of May, but is derived from the old Swedish word maja meaning to adorn with leaves or deck with branches.  Apparently this practice was imported from Germany to Sweden sometime during the middle ages.

Many Swedish towns and villages (especially famous in the province of Dalarna) decorated a majstång which is then proudly displayed in the town square.  The majstång or midsummer-pole is a tall cross clad with leaves and flowers.  It is decorated in the day by people in the community, usually with birch twigs, leaves and flowers.  Hand made flower wreaths and ribbons are then added to the leafy pole.  In the afternoon the majstång is raised (sommarsolståndet) in the center of the village square or a field.  Everyone then gathers around the majstång to begin the dances.  There are usually games and competitions with the children, ring dances and traditional dancing and singing games.  Later in the evening there may be a dance in an outdoor pavilion for the adults.  The nocturnal brightness of Midsummer is enjoyed well into the night.  The light can be described as twilight which lasts all night long.  Farther up in northern Sweden it is the land of the midnight sun during the summer solstice.

Flowered head-wreaths or blomsterkrans are worn by individuals during Midsummer festivities.  In the old folk traditions, people bound a Midsummer head-wreath of local wildflowers and wore it on Midsummers Day.  The flower wreaths would then be saved for the future.  If someone got sick, you could then simply burn the flower wreath and bask in the smoke, evoking powerful magic to promote healing.  You could also place the Midsummer flower wreath in your Christmas bath water to revive your weary winter body.

Today in Sweden, and Swedish Americans in the USA gather together to celebrate the summer solstice with traditional Swedish foods like pickled herring, boiled potatoes with fresh dill, sour cream topped with chives, bread, cheese, and a dessert usually with fresh strawberries.  Beverages include saft, beer and schnapps.  People who live in larger towns or cities might travel out to their summer cottages in the countryside or by the water to celebrate Midsommar out nearer to nature to relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives.

Please take time out to enjoy the Summer Solstice and the Swedish Midsommar!

Maria and Hans Jönsson


-Svenska Folkfester, Åke Mokvist 1984
-Traditional Festivities in Sweden, Ingemar Liman 1983 The Swedish Institute
-Svenska Traditioner-Årets fester och livets högtider, Ebba Schön 1998
-Maypoles, Crayfish and Lucia-Swedish Holidays and Traditions, Jan-Öjvind Swahn
-Holidays in Sweden, Traditions and Superstitions, Siv-Swan Pierson
-Trevlig Helg-Alla våra kända och okända helger, Margareta Schildt 1989

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