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Midsummer Celebrations and History

Midsummer, a celebration of the summer solstice, intertwines a mixture of cultural, Christian, and pagan traditions that has evolved throughout thousands of years.  It’s celebrated over a span of several days (normally around June 20 – 25) in Sweden and Finland and often occurs in tandem with St. John’s Eve festivities.

Midsummer History and Traditions

Dating back to the late Middle Ages, the centerpiece of Midsummer is the raising and dancing around a majestic Midsummer pole. Adorned with an array of flowers and greenery, this tradition, known as ‘maja’ or maypole, symbolizes the vibrancy of the season.

In agrarian society, the Midsummer night was considered a time of magic and mystery when plants acquired healing powers and prophetic insights into the future. Flowers are an important part of Midsummer traditions. Flower crowns or wreaths are worn by women and children. Long ago it was believed that everything that grew contained special magic powers. Young women would gather seven different kinds of flowers and put them under their pillow to dream of their future spouses. The flowers must be picked in silence, or the magic would be broken.

The tradition of bonfires linked with midsummer celebrations were popular around Europe dating back to the 6th century. It is still a strong tradition in some areas of Sweden. It is believed the fire chases away witches and evil spirits but also warms, or “awakes,” the ground for encouraging a good growing season.

The Celebration

Like all major holidays, Midsummer revolves around eating and drinking. The Midsummer fare boils down to a few musts: fresh potatoes, pickled herring, Aquavit or ‘snaps’ and strawberries. A vital part of enjoying Aquavit is the toasting and singing. For each toast, a new song is sung. The most popular drinking song is ‘Helan går’. The name meaning ‘the whole goes down’ refers to the drink being the first in a series of ‘snaps’.

At Midsummer parties, people of all ages participate in fun games. The different games played at Midsummer are called ‘femkamp’, often with a playful twist. A popular outdoor summer game for Swedes of all ages is ‘kubb’ where the goal is to knock down ten small wooden blocks (‘kubb’) and one large wooden block (‘the king’) by throwing wooden sticks.

Today, Midsummer is about celebrating that the best time of the year lies ahead of us.

If you would like to learn more about midsummer check out the links below:

Midsummer in Sweden

Midsummer in Finland

Posted: May 7, 2024 | In: Uncategorized

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