Summer in Sweden is often described as whatever day of the year happens to be the warmest. Although this is a bit unfair, and despite increasingly large holes in the ozone layer, Sweden is unlikely to become known as a sultry summer destination. Nonetheless, because of the sheer contrast with the very long and very cold winter months, summer is definitely worth celebrating. The best manifestation of this is the traditional Midsommarfest (Midsummer party, if you couldn't guess), held on the weekend closest to 24 June.
The celebration is said to date back to the Vikings, but it is difficult to say if this is correct. Certainly the Vikings were known to mark Midwinter with the gruesome Midvinterblot, which involved human sacrifice, and it seems quite reasonable to expect that they would do likewise for summer.
Midsummer celebrations are held in parks and homes across Sweden: those in Dalarna are regarded as the most traditional, although across the country ancient rites and rituals are generally adhered to closely.
The Dance of the Nobel Prize Winners
The focus is on the on the midsommarstång or 'maypole', which is usually set up in a local park. Legend has it that this was once just a simple phallic pole, but that Christian missionaries persuaded Swedes to add a lateral bar to make it a cross. This idea didn't really work, because once the pole is bedecked with flowers, and has two large circular garlands hanging from the crossbar, the phallic effect is even more pronounced.
Everyone dances around the pole, singing along with traditional Swedish songs. These are mostly aimed at children, but the adults join in as well. The best-known, and also the silliest, is the 'Dance of the Little Green Frogs', in which people hop about, acting like, well, frogs. As if that wasn't endearing and barmy enough, each year's Nobel Prize winners have to dance the frog dance when they are inducted into the Order of the Little Green Frogs by the University student guild. Picture that!
Marinated Herrings and Prinskorv
As you might expect, many of the traditions are based upon the flourishing flora 'fings' that abound in Sweden during summer. This is, after all, a celebration of the good things that summer brings. Many of the girls wear a crown of flowers. Another custom states that if a girl or woman picks seven different types of flowers, from seven different meadows, and lays them under her pillow on Midsummer Eve, she will dream of the man she will marry.
Later in the evening, people generally return home for a midsummer feast. Swedes know how to eat and drink! The most essential ingredients are numerous different types of 'sill', or marinated herring, and numerous types of 'snaps', schnapps or vodka, flavoured with all sorts of things. (Remember, this is the land of Absolut. They make good snaps!) You will also find salmon, potatoes, prinskorv (small sausages,) Swedish meatballs, ham, salads and lots of other things.
So you get to eat wonderful food, in great company, and (hopefully) in the blazing Nordic sunshine. 'Okay', one might be tempted to venture, in anticipation of an evening of midsummer merriment, 'hand me a glass of snaps!' There's a catch. You have to sing first. Yes, before every round of shots, everyone has to join in a sing-a-long. Most of the snaps songs are thankfully short, and in the opinion of this Researcher, the best one says, in effect, 'Drink it all in one go. If you don't, you won't get a new drink for the next round'. Good advice.