Midsummer only in Sweden… or is it overhyped?

Posted on April 6 2010 by Kevin

We recently covered the best place to be for St. Patrick’s Day.

In this post we try to shed some light on Midsummer (or midsommar in Swedish), what it is, why it is celebrated and where to go. Midsummer is always on a weekend between the 19th of June and the 26th of June. Midsummer’s Eve is the big day where everyone celebrates, and this is always on a Friday. Midsummer’s Day is always on the Saturday. Midsummer’s Eve is always between the 19th of June and the 25th of June.

Midsummer is somewhat of a Swedish national holiday. It is so important to the Swedish people in fact, that some refer to it as Sweden’s real national holiday.

Why is Midsummer so important to Swedish people?

This is the big question. The best answer anyone has been able to give me is that Midsummer is Swedish. It is one of the traditions that anyone who has grown up in Sweden, or even ever been to Sweden around Midsummer, can relate very strongly to. Comparing Midsummer to an American holiday, let’s take Thanksgiving. Everyone has some type of relation to that holiday – whether it be a childhood memory, a tradition that has lived on for generations or a specific dish that grandma used to make, just so.

Maypoles at Midsummer

The maypole or in Swedish “midsommarstång” is central to the celebration. This is, however, mostly for the children. Dancing around the maypole at midsummer used to be a tradition that everybody took part in, and looked forward to. However, these days it is usually for the younger children.

The Midsummer Food

The food eaten at midsummer varies from the north to the south, and from the east to the west, and again wherever you go in Sweden. The food even varies depending on if you go next door to the neighbors house. Some common elements do appear on almost every table though. Starting with pickled herring. Pickled herring is a very, very traditional Swedish dish – and also an acquired taste. With that the Swedish drink Aquavit, which is a type of Vodka with spices. Also, no midsummer meal would be complete if it were not finished off with strawberries. Either served with ice cream, whipped cream, on a cake or any other which way. So long as the strawberries are on the table. Ice cream and cakes are usually a pretty nice bribe to get the children to try the fish at an early age…

Other Midsummer Traditions

Each family has it’s own set of traditions. This can be anywhere from bonfires, to dancing to playing brännboll (Swedish variant of baseball). What it comes down to in the end though, is that if you were planning on visiting Sweden any time at all in the Summer, Midsummer is when you want to go… and there is basically nowhere else we would recommend you to go for that weekend.

IKEA made a pretty nice commercial on the topic of midsummer. Sadly, it was not aired as it was deemed to controversial. (might be mildly NSFW) It should, however, be taken very lightly and a friend of mine (who is Swedish) ensures me that it is all true (and that Swedes find it really funny) even if it is extremely exaggerated.

There are also lots of places outside of Sweden where Swedish expats and Swedish clubs celebrate Midsummer. For example there are the Swedish Days near Chicago.

Sweden.se also has a resources page on Swedish holidays and has an article on Midsummer in Sweden.

image sources: wikipedia