Today is, without a doubt, the most important day of the Swedish calendar. It is Sweden’s combination of the 4th of July (outdoors, gobs of food and summer celebration) and New Year’s Eve (booze, wantonness and babies conceived–more babies are born in March here in Sweden than any other month).
Strange that the day is called midsummer, when summer only started yesterday. But long ago, the first of May was considered the beginning of summer and here we are six weeks later in what would have been the middle of summer.
Midsummer has its origins in pagan times despite the church’s best efforts to preempt it with the feast of St. John the Baptist. A lot of feasting does take place. Whatever. It is the happiest day of the year signifying that summer is here and that vacation is right around the corner (most of the country shuts down for the whole month of July–most Swedes have a full six weeks of vacation a year and many take off July or August and use the rest during winter to get away from the darkness and cold).
With as spectacular a day as we had yesterday, could sunshine strike twice? Here is how it looked.
Flowers everywhere and they play important role.
Something about girls picking 7 varieties and dreaming about their future husband that night.
Midsummer celebrations preferably occur outside urban areas on an old farm someplace or at the family summer house.
We went to a farm about a mile from our house. The symbol of midsummer is the midsummer pole. It is a pagan fertility symbol, which will become more obvious once it is, um, erect. The buckets contain flowers that kids will use to decorate the pole.
Once it is in place, Swedes dance around it to age old folk songs accompanied by an accordion or violins.
Mariette was intrigued by the flowered wreaths that the kids and women wore.
Strawberry torta, a summer staple. Really, really yummy. Really yummy. Other staples like pickled herring, not so much. And schnapps, lots and lots of schnapps. The police will be a presence on a day like this. If you are caught behind the wheel with more than .02 percent blood alcohol you are toast. They don’t mess around with drunk drivers here.
After the dancing there was a performance by a folk dancing group.
There always seem to be enough people interested in keeping the old traditions alive and there are enough young kids storing away enough happy memories of days like these to ensure that in 50 years time, they will be carrying things forward.
If you got the idea that midsummer is a really happy day, you would be right. What do these people have to be worried about on a day like this? They contribute a lot to the society in the form of their taxes and the society contributes a lot back to them via healthcare, education, raising children, etc., etc.
So, that is midsummer. Unfortunately for everybody here today, that was midsummer in 2010. As happens half the time, this is what midsummer looked like today:
You can’t see it but the umbrellas should tell you that it began raining around 2:00 this afternoon and kept up until 8:00.
Regardless, all were welcomed.
It was raining steadily but warm and windless, so not unpleasant at all, really.
Pony rides for the kids.
Fika for everyone else.
Still, the kids has their garlands on.
Kids getting ready to decorate the pole.
Up she goes. Still raining but no matter, the rain just ensures a good harvest later on.
Same dances, same traditional songs year after year regardless of the weather.
Back at the old homestead, Mariette prepared a fabulous midsummer meal featuring a smörgastorta (sandwich cake) packed with shrimp, salmon and the other usual suspects of summer.
Party photo. Notice something very interesting here: Bianca, Mariette, her mother and father are in sharp focus, while Ackie’s whole head is blurred almost beyond recognition. Now look at Olof. Clearly he is using some kid power to totally mess with his mother. This is clear evidence that kids are in some mystical state between demigods and humans. I will have to keep a closer eye on this kid.
But no matter, the skies cleared by 8:00 and Swedes will be partying hard tonight, all night. Tomorrow is midsummer day (today was technically midsummer eve) and tomorrow all the men will be hungover and all the women will be pregnant. No rain tomorrow. And summer begins again here in the Workers’ Paradise.
But in keeping with full disclosure, I have given a somewhat sanitized version of Swedish Midsommar. For a more factual version, copy this link into your browser and get the full feeling of Sweden in 3 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I5BGsK5ZAU.