Midsummer is here – day and night are right now equally long, and not even at night does it get very dark here, even though the REAL midnight sun is only experienced above the Pole Circle…
On Midsummer Eve in OUR family, we have almost always gone to this Midsummer celebration located on a field behind an old church. Midsummer weddings are very popular, so we have had the opportunity to watch a happy couple come out onto the church steps on more than one occasion.
What do we do at these Midsummer celebrations then?
Well, first you have to “dress the maypole”, everybody helps in picking flowers and cutting birch branches that will be wrapped, tied and in other ways applied to the pole. This is also a very good opportunity to make the flower wreaths that you put on your head – there is nothing sweeter than a little girl in her best dress, with a wreath of flowers on her head, dancing around in the grass…
Then comes the “raising of the pole”. This is when they start asking strong men to come up to the pole, because raising a really big maypole takes a lot of effort. Some push the pole upright, while others hold it steady with ropes attached to the top, until they get it down into its hole in the ground.
Then the dancing can begin!
[youtube width=”600″ height=”501″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44xiJPZwNNc[/youtube]
The dancing around the Maypole is very similar to the dancing around the Christmas tree – this is the only time of year that you will see grown men (usually forced to join in by their wives, who wants their husbands to take active part in their children’s Midsummer celebrations) squatting down, hopping forward in the big circle around the pole, waving their hands by their ears and behind their behinds (that sounded silly!), singing about:
“The small frogs, the small frogs, are amusing to see, no ears, no ears, no tails do they have..”
“SmÃ¥ grodorna, smÃ¥ grodorna, Ã¤r lustiga att se, ej Ã¶ron, ej Ã¶ron, ej svansar hava de…”
Usually at these celebrations, there is a musician or even a band that plays the traditional music on accordion, guitar, violin, maybe even a clarinet or a trumpet. Tape recorders and so on are more common at family celebrations in somebody’s back yard.
[youtube width=”600″ height=”501″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwPM6nKG_WA[/youtube]
At the bigger events there is also a “folkdanslag”, a dance troop that perform the old traditional Swedish dances – I always look forward to the “Oxdansen”, the “Oxen dance”. This one is performed by two male dancers, it is like a pretend battle to prove their manliness and impress the ladies, pounces and slaps that can get pretty hard and very realistic…
I managed to track down a video where you can see just what the “Oxdansen” is all about – mind you, in this particular video they are NOT celebrating Midsummer (but it’s still a very funny version):
[youtube width=”600″ height=”501″]http://youtube.com/watch?v=k5Aa63o2lxw[/youtube]
At the bigger festivities there are usually stands where you can buy coffee, soda, buns and cookies, and often there are handcrafted items that you can win by buying a raffle ticket – a LOT of money usually goes to those tickets, and if there is a toy raffle the kids will beg and beg for “just ONE more ticket, this time I KNOW I’ll win”…
Most people bring their own picnic baskets, and enjoy the day sitting on blankets they spread out on the ground.
When everybody feels like they’ve had enough, it is time to go home and eat the Midsummer dinner.
New potatoes, pickled herring, sour cream, chopped chive… THAT IS MIDSUMMER!!! (Yes, we DO drink schnapps, and we DO sing our little “drinking songs”, that’s just part of the whole tradition. Not everybody gets totally drunk, though…)
When it is getting dark (since Midsummer is the brightest time of year, this can sometimes be VERY late) all the girls go out to pick seven different kind of flowers to put under their pillow. While picking them you have to be ABSOLUTELY quiet, and this is a GREAT opportunity for all the boys to be real pests and try to get the girls to speak… Hopefully, the girls manage to stay silent, and find all the flowers – they have to be seven different kinds, duplicates are not allowed, and only WILD flowers! This way they will dream about the man they will marry…
My daughter picked her seven flowers a few years ago, put them under her pillow and went to sleep. The next morning she was very angry when she woke up – she muttered “I dreamed all night about a COW”!!!
Here is a little video that I found that shows you a VERY STRANGE Midsummer celebration – this is an ad from the German IKEA that was banned by the Swedish IKEA head office, because it made fun of Swedish traditions:
[youtube width=”600″ height=”501″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I5BGsK5ZAU[/youtube]
Of course, it is almost uncanny how it always manages to start to RAIN n Midsummer’s Eve!!! This year it looks like we’ll be having a VERY WET event…
Well, there is ONE good thing about a rainy day – according to old time superstition, rain in the bride’s crown is suppose to bring good fortune to the marriage – midsummer brides SURE are fortunate!!!
And now for some…
Midsummer Day was originally celebrated on 24 June to commemorate John the Baptist. In 1953, it was moved to the nearest Saturday. In agrarian times, Midsummer celebrations in Sweden were held to welcome summertime and the season of fertility.
In some areas, therefore, people dressed up as â€˜green menâ€™, clad in ferns. They also decorated their houses and farm tools with foliage, and raised tall, leafy maypoles to dance around, probably as early as the 16th century and modeled on a German tradition.
Midsummer was primarily an occasion for young people, but it was also celebrated in the industrial communities of central Sweden, where all mill employees were given a feast of pickled herring, beer and schnapps.
It was not until the 20th century, however, that this became the most Swedish of all traditional festivities.
Ever since the 6th century AD, Midsummer bonfires have been lit around Europe. In Sweden, they were mainly found in the southern part of the country.
Young people also liked to visit holy springs, where they drank the healing waters and amused themselves with games and dancing. These visits were a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the River Jordan.
Midsummer Night is the lightest of the year and was long considered a magical night, as it was the best time for telling peopleâ€™s futures.
Girls ate salted porridge (â€˜dream porridgeâ€™) so that their future husbands might bring water to them in their dreams, to quench their thirst. They also kept watch at springs for a reflection of their husband-to-be in the water.
On Midsummer Night, you could discover places where treasure was buried, for example by studying how moonbeams fell. When digging, you might be confronted by strange sights that would tempt you to laugh or speak, such as a lame hen pulling a large hay-load. If you managed to keep quiet, you would find the treasure.
Also that night, it was said,water was turned into wine and ferns into flowers. Many plants acquired healing powers on that one night of the year.
In modern Sweden, Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day (Midsommarafton and Midsommardagen) are celebrated from the eve of the Friday between June 19 – 25. It is arguably the most important holiday of the year, and one of the most uniquely Swedish in the way it is celebrated, even if it has been influenced by other countries long ago. The main celebrations take place on the Friday, and the traditional events include raising and dancing around a huge maypole. One typical dance is the frog dance. Before the maypole is raised, greens and flowers are collected and used to cover the entire pole.
Raising and dancing around a maypole (majstÃ¥ngen or midsommarstÃ¥ngen) is an activity that attracts families and many others. People dancing around the pole listen to traditional music and many wear traditional folk costumes. The year’s first potatoes, pickled herring, sour cream, and possibly the first strawberries of the season are on the menu. Drinking songs are also important at this feast, and many drink heavily.
Because Midsummer is one of the times of the year when magic is believed to be the strongest, it was a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Traditionally, young people pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. In the past it was believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were highly potent, and water from springs could bring good health. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, even though most don’t take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to “may”) and may be the origin of the word majstÃ¥ng, maja coming originally from the month May Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a midsommarstÃ¥ng. In earlier times, small spires wrapped in greens were erected; this probably predates the maypole tradition, which is believed by many to have come from the continent in the Middle Ages. Others argue that some form of Midsummer pole occurred in Sweden during the pre-Christian times, and was a phallic fertility symbol, meant to impregnate the earth, but as there were no records from those times it cannot be proven, and this idea might just be a modern interpretation of the poles form. The earliest historical mention of the maypole in Sweden is from the Middle Ages. Midsummer was however linked to an ancient fertility festival which was adapted into St. Johan’s day by the church, even though it retained many pagan traditions, as the Swedes were slow to give up the old heathen customs. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year. Many young people became passionate at Midsummer, and this was accepted, probably because it resulted in more childbirths in March which was a good time for children to be born.
To many Swedes this holiday is seen as a holiday of partying, and as the start of the summer. The cities become almost deserted as most people travel to the country, often to their summer cottages, to celebrate. Midsummer rivals Christmas as the most important holiday of the year.