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Swedish Ways: Midsommar

I was going to write a post, but then … then someone posted a link to this video and a description seems sort of superfluous!

…Okay, maybe some things need explaining after all.

Midsommar is indeed one of the biggest holidays in the Swedish calendar, we have the Midsommarstång (what the video refers to as “Maypole”) that can be danced around and yes, you can wear wreaths of flowers and leaves too. Origins of the midsommarstång is a pagan fertility thing. It used to be just a pole and a ring, like this:

The men would decorate the pole, and the women would make the ring. Then they’d team up so that the men with the pole would chase the women holding the ring, game ending with the ring being poked through the pole. Yup, really unsubtle.

Then the Christians came along and said “down with this sort of thing!” except they couldn’t quite defeat the spirit and instead ended up just changing the pole into a cross and hanging two rings from it:

[Another source]
Sooo while trying to de-sexify the midsommarstång and instead Christianise it, they sort of made it look like an upside down penis. Well done there.

When we were kids, we would often spend midsommar at home, but have the family over that we also often came to spend Easter and New Year’s with. In our neighbourhood, there’s almost a village green type thing, so that’s where a midsommarstång would be erected. (I got my foot stuck in the foundations for it once when I was a kid and it was actually kind of traumatic. That I actually still remember that is probably not conducive to my mental health.) Then it would be there for the rest of the summer, slowly wilting and drying up, until someone took pity on it in August or September or something.

There was dancing around it, certainly. It’s more of a kid’s thing, though, especially dancing to Små grodorna. If adults do it, they either have young children, or do it because they’re either drunk or nostalgic, or both. Some would probably protest against what I just said and say “hey, I do it because it’s FUN!” but to that I raise an eyebrow and say, “you and I have vastly different interpretations of the word fun“, which in turn would also apply to the games mentioned in the video. Yes, rope-pulling and all that can happen, and that also does not fit my idea of fun.

I preferred the mystery hunt, or poängpromenad (or tipspromenad) instead. Beforehand, someone would go around the neighbourhood and put up questions and something to point you in the direction of the next one, usually some plastic ribbons flying from a branch or lamp post. Then you’d walk around, answering the questions by alternative 1, X or 2, look around to spot in which direction to go and hopefully win something if you did well, which we normally did.

Of course, the bit the video mentioned about raining is true. It wouldn’t be midsommar if it didn’t rain. You can just hope that it won’t rain all day.

Food-wise, the tradition is exactly what they said in the video. Scrubbed new potatoes boiled with dill, pickled herring (matjessill to be specific, not just any old pickled herring variety – that’s for Christmas), sour cream and chives. For those who didn’t like pickled herring, we used to serve cold cut kassler instead, with melted butter. There is no kassler in Britain, so that’s one of the foods I really miss from home.

I miss you, salty, smoked cut of pork you could have either hot or cold

Well, I should say that the kassler was only introduced to the midsommar proceedings when our parents decided that we kids should start eating adult food. Before, we always used to eat Spaghetti Bolognaise on midsommar, and when our respective mums would ask us what we wanted to eat on midsommar, we’d say “Spag Bol!” because that was our tradition. Then one year, they decided no, there will be no more Spag Bol for us on midsommar, because we’re not kids anymore. It just wasn’t proper midsommar for us after that. 🙁

For dessert, the only proper alternative is fresh strawberries with a sprinkling of sugar and some whipped cream. Still brings out memories of summer for me. The first time I served it to my future husband (“try this, it’s delicious and very summery!”), I ended up eating both potions, because he didn’t like the fresh strawberries. How can you not like fresh strawberries?!

If you get hungry in the evening, yes, the barbecue might come out, if it’s not raining. For a lot of Swedes, though, midsommar is a weekend full of binge drinking. Being from parents with a very low alcohol intake and celebrating midsommar with tee-totallers meant that I have never personally associated the holiday with drinking, and have never had to wake up the next morning with a nasty hangover.

As for the seven flowers – oh yes, done that many times. Once I ended up dreaming we were hosting the Oscars in my sister’s room, and limos kept pulling up. The only one I can remember from that dream is Will Smith, and I sure as hell ain’t married to him. Funny, though. 😀

Glad midsommar, everyone!

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

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