Midsummer is celebrated all around the world, and is especially significant in many northern European countries. But no other country does up a spectacular Midsummer celebration better than the land of my lineage, Sweden. This year, I’m honoring my Norse ancestors with a Midsummer celebration.
Before I get into the details, I should note that even though Midsummer/Midsommar coincides with the summer solstice, it is not actually the middle of summer. The solstice marks the beginning of summer. Of course, here in Texas it’s felt like summer for quite some time!
The history of Midsummer
Midsummer (known as Midsommar in Sweden) marks the imminent death of Baldur, the Norse god associated with the sun. With the summer solstice occurring, the days are getting shorter and he is beginning to weaken. Many Norse pagans will offer a blessing to Baldur at Midsummer as a way to honor him.
Historically, the Vikings would depart their villages at this time in pursuit of obtaining riches from other lands. Their crops had been planted and there was little to do until autumn sowing. It was also an ideal time to set sail as the weather was at its mildest. For this reason, it is considered a great time to take risks and make bold moves. It’s a great time to take action and explore new things.
Midsummer in modern times
Over the summer solstice, the timing for the sunrise and sunset make it the longest day of the year, right in the middle of the warm season. This is especially so in Sweden because of its geographic location being so far north. In Stockholm (located in the southern part of the country) on the day of the solstice, the sun rises at about 3:30am and doesn’t set until after 10:00pm. That’s a whopping 18.5 hours of daylight! Just thinking about it is exhausting!
Even though this year’s solstice takes place on Sunday, June 20th, the Swedish Midsummer Day holiday falls annually on the Saturday between June 20th and 26th. That means that this year it’s on Saturday, June 26, 2021. As with most Norse holidays, the main part of the celebration occurs the evening before, deemed Midsummer’s Eve. The holiday is so revered, there is a movement to change Sweden’s National Day from June 6th to Midsummer’s Eve.
Midsummer’s Eve: Drinking, singing, and skinny dipping
This enchanting evening is marked by dancing joyfully around a maypole (midsommarstången) and making speeches around huge outdoor bonfires. Some traditionalists will add to the ambience by wearing historical Swedish folk costumes.
Indulging in plenty of cold beer and spiced schnapps is also quite common, along with singing drinking songs and dancing to traditional music. The alcohol probably helps to promote another Swedish tradition: Skinny dipping to round out the evening. I won’t likely be doing any skinny dipping in my community pool, but I do plan to crack open a cold one! Or two 🙂
Magic is in the air tonight
Historically, Midsummer’s Eve is a very magical time. Rituals, especially those about predicting the future, are quite common. In one tradition, a young girl will discreetly pick seven different flowers on the way home from a Midsummer’s Eve feast. She will then place them under her pillow in the hope that her future husband will appear in her dreams. This romantic time of year is quite popular for weddings.
I personally plan to include a Tarot reading in this evening’s ritual to connect with my helpful ancestors. I have so many things going on right now, it will be super interesting to see what they may reveal on this magical night! It will also be a good time to ask for their help with the 2021 goals I have been working toward.
Midsummer’s Day traditions
I imagine the day after Midsummer’s Eve is much like New Year’s Day: People nursing their hangovers, contemplating (possibly regretting) the previous night’s shenanigans. For certain, the daytime activities are much more subdued than that of the night before.
In Scandinavia, most shops and businesses are closed on Midsummer’s Day. In fact, many close up throughout the entire holiday week. Midsummer is, after all, one of the major Swedish and Norse holidays. It is second in importance only to Yule, which occurs on the exact opposite side of the calendar during winter solstice.
This festive summer day is all about celebrating fertility, represented by a greenery-clad maypole. Traditionalist Swedish families might be found singing folk songs and dancing around it, wearing hand-woven flower crowns. To bring good fortune and health to both people and livestock, many Swedes also adorn their houses and barns with greenery.
And what’s a holiday celebration without good food? At Midsummer, the Swedes pull out all the stops! They will typically have tables decked out with pickled herring, cheeses, cinnamon buns, midsommartårta (strawberry cake laced with amaretto), knäckebröd (a type of crispbread) with bondöst (farmer’s cheese), pickled beets, deviled eggs, marinated cucumber, and of course Köttbullar (Swedish meatballs). Libations typically include Akvavit, an herbal spirit produced in Sweden.
I’m planning to spend Midsummer Day by having some friends over for Fika (Swedish coffee break similar to British tea). I’ll serve a few of the traditional foods, and we’ll be crafting a mini maypole. I already have my flower crown ready for the occasion!
I know I’ll enjoy spending a delicious day honoring my heritage and indulging with close friends. Ha en god midsommar!