Glad midsommar! Midsummer in Sweden is an old tradition. Swedes often joke about it being our unofficial national day. Midsummer was first documented in Sweden in the year 1555. At the time it was celebrated with dancing in the light of bonfires in the fields or in the town squares.
You might think that Midsummer has pre-Christian roots. There is no evidence for that. For centuries, the Swedish Midsummer’s Day was celebrated on the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
The Christian holiday is on the 24 of June. The profane festivities are on the day before, on Midsummer’s Eve. Since 1953, the Swedish Midsummer’s Eve is always on a Friday between the 19 and 25 of June.
Modern Midsummer in Sweden
The Swedish Midsummer requires three things: The maypole (majstång or midsommarstång). The herring. And the strawberries.
The maypole is decorated with leaves and sometimes with flowers. The most common form looks a bit like a cross with two wreaths at the ends. But there are local traditions for maypoles. They can have many different shapes and decorations. It is believed to have come from Germany in the Middle Ages. The first Swedish depiction is from the late 17th century or the early 18th century.
Nowadays it’s popular to celebrate Midsummer in Dalarna. In this region the maypoles are often standing the entire year and every village has its own style. The maypole is raised to the tune of folk music. After that it’s time to dance around it. Many like to dress up in traditional clothing, folkdräkt. The celebrations are similar in the whole country.
Herring and strawberries
The herring is pickled in the south and sometimes salted in the north. You eat it with new potatoes, at least in the south where it’s available at this time of year. Equally important is the sour cream. Top it with chopped chives.
Finish the sitting with strawberries. Eat them fresh or in a strawberry shortcake.
Typically, you eat the Midsummer lunch outside. This is the beginning of summer. Hopeful Swedes may have to brave both cool weather and rain to get through lunch at Midsummer’s Eve.
Your Ancestor’s Midsummer in Sweden
The night between Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day is magic. A young girl who picks seven or nine flowers and put them under her pillow, will dream of her intended.
The encyclopedias from 1886 and 1913 describe Midsummer in the same way. Swedes danced around the maypole. The houses were decorated with leaves and flowers. Stockholm had a special leaf market for leafy boughs and toys. In some regions people still lit bonfires.
A long tradition
Swedes have celebrated Midsummer for nearly 600 years, maybe even longer. As with all traditions, a lot has stayed the same through the centuries, and some things have changed. Your Swedish ancestors may or may not have lit bonfires or raised maypoles on Midsummer’s Eve. But you can be pretty sure that they danced.
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- Midsommarafton, Nordisk Familjebok, Stockholm: Gernandts boktryckeri-aktiebolag 1886, retrieved 2020-06-23
- Midsommardagen, Nordisk Familjebok, Stockholm: Gernandts boktryckeri-aktiebolag 1886, retrieved 2020-06-23
- Midsommardagen, Nordisk Familjebok, Nordisk familjeboks förlags aktiebolag 1913, retrieved 2020-06-23
- Westergren, Björn, Bonniers Stora Kokbok, Bokgruppen i Malmö AB and BonnierFakta Bokförlag 1983 Bonnier Alba 1996.
- Maypole dancing at Skansen, Stockholm, around 1955-1969, by Skansen PDM
- Bastbergets Fäbod, Dalarna, by Tiderman-Österberg, Jennie 2018, Dalarnas Museum CC BY
- Maypole in the 1970s. Skansen, Stockholm by Skansen CC BY-SA
- Image by Pasi Mämmelä from Pixabay
- Midsommar in Ranten in the 1890s, Falbygdens Museum PDM
- Midsommardans, Anders Zorn 1897, Nationalmuseum CC BY-SA