The Summer Solstice and Midsummer night has passed us by. It is fascinating to see during the nights now how the light actually comes from the north. The night is simply not darker than a twilight, and in fact, further up in the northern Sweden (above the artic circle), the sun never sets during the summer months! Midsummer has been celebrated with the traditional food and drinks (which in Sweden happens to be the same traditional food as for Easter and Christmas – pickled herrings of all types and tastes.
Midsummer actually means “in the middle of the summer” but simply refer to the period of time centered upon the summer solstice. More often it refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place on the preceding evening. The midsummer-related traditions, and celebrations have been superficially Christianised as celebrations of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist as “Saint John’s Eve” festivals. An old trick – to hijack competing religions and spiritual festivities, and so forth…
The Midsummer Eve is particularly important in Northern Europe – Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden – but are found also in Ireland, parts of Britain (Cornwall especially), France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, other parts of Europe, and elsewhere – such as Canada, the United States, Puerto Rico, and even in the Southern hemisphere: Brazil (where this imported European celebration would be more appropriately called “Midwinter”).
Midsummer is also sometimes referred to by neo-pagans and others. The fire festival or Litha – Summer solstice is a tradition for many pagans. Solstice celebrations in Sweden are probably the biggest celebration of the year. And has none or very little to do with the Church… No one cares about Old Johnny the baptist really. The main celebration is the height of summer, and traditional foods. 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. Traditionally copious amounts of alcohol consumed.
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 Midsummer Eve, 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 (majstång or midsommarstång) is an activity that attracts families and many others all over Sweden. People dances around the pole to traditional music and some wear traditional folk costumes. (A bit like the Native Americans dancing around the totem-pole).
Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Some 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. Since there are no records from those times it cannot be proven, and this idea might just be a modern interpretation (dirty minds) of the poles form. The earliest historical mention of the maypole in Sweden is from the Middle Ages, although it was most probably not the first time it was celebrated. Midsummer was linked to an ancient fertility festival, 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 in the Nordic countries to be born – when the winter and snow slowly giving way for the spring…
The pagan holiday, Midsummer
Midsummer is one of the only pagan holidays that are still celebrated in Europe (if not the only). In Denmark and Norway it is referred to as the eve of St. Hans but it’s only in Sweden that it has kept its original name.