You have probably been told about the upcoming event, Midsommarafton, taking place on Friday (24/6). The aim is to celebrate the summer solstice (actually occurring today) and the fact that from now and onwards, every day will be a little bit shorter until we hit rock bottom a few days before Christmas. You have also probably been told that Midsummer is all about fresh potatoes, herring, strawberries, alcohol. That is for the food. And then there is also the Maypole, the crazy frog dance, and the inevitable rain. If this sounds fun, or at least curious to you, you might be keen on participating? I would encourage that. Regardless if you are here for a short time, or intend to stay, observing local customs can at least be entertaining.
But where is the party?
There are, in fact, two options. Neither includes going into town and locating the crowd. The most popular alternative requires a dedicated group of friends, that will temporarily relocate to a rural location, maybe somewhere in the archipelagoes, preferably someone’s sommarstuga. Makeshift beds will be set up in the cottage, the guest houses, even tents in the garden. Time will be spent outdoors. The sunset (obscured by clouds) will be watched and cherished. There will be some kissing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this popular (and sought-after) tradition was established through a beer commercial in the 1990’s.
This event has been thoroughly planned for weeks, and everyone has been given a certain responsibility – acquiring and peeling the potatoes, baking the cake, picking the strawberries, transporting the drink. Receipts are conscientiously kept, and all costs are split fairly after the holiday, using Swish. The whole weekend will be rendered by pagan references, tension (it has to be my way), logistical arrangements, and substandard singing.
What to bring? Your own sheets, towels, clothes and raincoats. Wellies. Warm clothes for the evening. (Popular outfit is, in fact, floaty summery dress, too large wellies and a big woollen jumper.) Mosquito repellent. Provisions according to your list of responsibilities. Phone charger (if there is electricity at your destination). A good book. Painkillers. Your driver’s licence.
Second option, if you lack that group of friends, …
… are tired of associated intrigues and arguments, have too many too small children, or just never bothered to plan anything. Now, you can locate the nearest public Midsommarfirande in your neighbourhood. (advertised in the website of your kommun.) This is normally arranged on a big and relatively flat piece of grass outside the centre. Anyone can show up, it is free of charge, and it will definitely rain. The event normally starts with making and raising the Maypole, then some folk dance, and then everyone is invited to take part in the mandatory dancing. No prior experience is required.
And food? You bring your own picnic, a blanket to sit on, raincoats and umbrellas. A lot of time is spent sitting on that blanket wondering what to do next. What to wear? Something summery, regardless of weather. Flowery, bright colours, white. Added, a see-through plastic raincoat so that your summery clothes are not going to waste. Bring, again, a good book, snacks, a plan for the evening.
Will you make some new friends?
Probably not. Everyone will stay on their own picnic blankets, having their own picnic, and although holding hands with you when dancing, ignore your existence completely. If you decide to stay into the night, the demographics of the crowd will change to consist mostly of teenagers and ‘young adults’. Now, people will indeed talk to you, perhaps lecture you of the most Swedish of all festivals, only to ignore you the next day.
The day after? The calmest day in the history of mankind. Do not expect anything to be open, or anyone to be around. This, is the very beginning of the Swedish Summer.
© Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux, 2016