Swedish midsummer

Although Sweden’s national day is on the 6th of June (and incidentally wasn’t made a bank holiday until 2005…), the true national day of Sweden by any standards must be Midsummer’s eve. On the Friday closest to Summer Solstice everyone in Sweden with their own summer cottage will celebrate the longest day of the year together with friends and family.

The summer cottage (“sommarstugan”), is the Swedish tribute to our rural heritage and our ancestors who painstakingly lived on what the fields could provide. The typical sommarstuga is a small house or cottage, almost always made of wood and mostly a log cabin and a lot of them originate from the early 20th century and was originally built to be the home of a large family farming the surrounding land. The traditional and most usual colour is a special kind of red paint called Falu red (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falu_red) and as you can see below, ours follow that prerequisite, althoug it is not more than 40 years old.

Sweden has around 10 million inhabitants and about 1 million summer cottages and most of these cottages are shared within a family. This means that probably more than 50% of Swedish families have access to a sommarstuga.

Come the Thursday before Midsummer every year, so does the big exodus from Stockholm and other cities out into where Sweden was built: the country side. Tradition has it that every year, around 15-20 people gather at our country house to follow the old pagan traditions in celebrating the fertility of the land in the absolutely least subtle way imaginable…. We take a 15 foot pole, put a crossbeam a few feet from the top where we hang two large rings and then put green leaves and flower all over to make it pretty. After that the pole is erected and stuck firmly into the ground, the end with the rings up…… Very subtle indeed….

The mandatory luncheon consists of boiled new potatoes, pickled herring (“sill”) in every shape, form and flavour imaginable (and trust me, when it comes to sill, Swedes are not lacking in inspiration) and to drink: lager and Swedish Aquavit (“snaps” or “nubbe”) in every shape, form and flavour imaginable (and trust me, when it comes to snaps, Swedes are surpassed by none in terms of innovatiove abilities). And snaps cannot be drunk without singing, which is why my own daughter already at a very young age, like myself, used to sing drinking songs to her babysitters.

After lunch the dancing around the pole commences. Nowadays, the dancers are practically only children and their more-or-less awkward-looking mothers or fathers, whereas in the olden days I am sure the maidens were slightly older and maybe slightly more daringly dressed. The dancing is often accompanied by an old couple singing and playing the harmonica, dressed in traditional clothing.

The ones still standing after such an ordeal participate in the evening barbecue, sauna with swimming in the lake and maybe some more singing until the sun sets… or, wait a minute… the sun hardly sets on Midsummer’s eve… hmmmm…. that must be why Midsummer’s Day always feels so difficult…