Why the Swedes go mad for Midsummer

June 21, 2010

Downing schnapps, dining on pickled herring and dancing around a phallic pole like a frog – it doesn’t sound terribly appealing, does it?! For most Swedes, however, Midsummer is by far the biggest and best party of the year. In a country with dark winters and short summers, celebrating the light and warmth – usually in an outdoor, rural setting – is a must. Here’s what it’s all about:

The pole: apparently it is a symbol of fertility. Why many European countries have Maypoles in May, and Sweden waits until Midsummer, is not entirely clear. It has been suggested that as summer arrives a bit later in Sweden, the flowers for decorating the pole are better in June.
Doing the hop: everyone dances around the pole to playful songs like Små Groderna, which translates as ‘small frogs’ – hence the hopping – or traditional folk music. 

The smӧrgåsbord: the main meal is served outside at midday and you can expect pickled herrings, boiled potatoes with dill, crisp bread, cheese, and strawberries and cream for dessert. The traditional accompaniment is cold beer and schnapps, preferably spiced, and drinking songs are an important part of the feast.

The location: generally the Swedes head to their summer homes away from the cities, and the festivities take place outside.

The myth: it is said that if you pick seven wildflowers and put them under your pillow you will dream of your future husband or wife.

Watch this space … I’m going to Sweden for Midsummer (Friday 25 June) this year and will report back on the festivities. Sarah Belcher