One of the biggest celebrations of the year in Sweden is Midsummer. Midsummer celebrates the summer solstice in hopes of ensuring a good harvest and a fertile earth. Although Midsummer used to be earmarked to June 24, it is now celebrated on the Saturday between June 19 and 26.
Even though it is traditionally a pagan holiday, many years ago the Christian Church tried to associate Midsummer with the birth of John the Baptist, partially because the events fall on the same day. However, Swedes have retained many of the traditional pagan customs of the holiday in their celebrations.
There are a few basic traditions of a Swedish Midsummer celebration. One of the focal points of the celebrations is the raising and decorating of a maypole. The maypole is usually raised in an open area outside and is decorated with freshly picked flowers and wreaths. (Along with the maypole, some Swedes will also decorate their houses with fresh flowers to celebrate summer) Then some people, mainly children, perform a traditional ring dance around the maypole to celebrate the day.
Besides the dancing, eating and drinking are also very important parts of Midsummer. A traditional Midsummer meal will feature several kinds of fermented and pickled herring, boiled new potatoes with dill, sour cream with chives, and raw red onions. Fish is a very important part of Swedish life and herring is one of the most popular choices in Sweden. Cold beer and spiced schnapps, a type of strong, distilled alcohol, are common accompaniments to the meal. According to tradition, everyone at the celebration sings a song together before each shot of schnapps.
Photo: Swedenexpo on flickr