Special to the Village News
With my Swedish heritage and living in Sweden at different stages in my life, the summertime is very dear and near to my heart. I hold the Midsummer season with genuine joy and excitement after coming out of the long, dark, cold winters as one of the highlights in my memory bank when I lived in Sweden.
Midsummer, or at least holidays resembling it, are celebrated in many European countries. But nowhere is Midsummer a bigger deal than in Sweden. So much that Midsummer's Eve in Sweden is like a national holiday and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm.
Since this holiday is linked to the summer solstice, its dates will vary yearly. But generally, Midsummer's eve occurs on June 24-25, and the sky never darkens completely; and is a spiritual experience to behold.
Today's Midsummer celebration is of the long summer's light, but you never know if a sudden summer rainstorm will darken the day with gray skies and a downpour, and the joyous festivities are shuttled inside.
As it happens, many Swedes start their summer paid vacations just after the Midsummer festivities to create their summer season and their Swedish vacation holiday, be it locally or abroad.
Some of these traditional events are the raising of and dancing around a maypole called Midsommarstangen, various outdoor games, and an array of homemade specialty Swedish food delicacies.
Many urban Stockholmers leave the city for the archipelago and various offshore islands or go out to the countryside this weekend to celebrate and be in contact with nature, which the Swedes love.
Midsummer buffets are a culinary highlight, with many types of pickled herrings, new potatoes, Vasterbotten cheese pie, gravlax (salmon), meatballs, crisp hardtack, Tumbrod, and a variety of snaps and beers.
Many traditional foods are served at Midsummer and are part of the Swedish smorgasbord feast, which is one of the highlights.
Midsummer developed during the 1800s and stems from "brinbord" served as a starter, consisting of bread, butter, cheese, salmon, anchovy or pickled herring, sausages, dried meat, and three kinds of snaps, aka Aquavit.
A vital part of enjoying Aquavit snaps is toasting and singing with a group of friends. For each toast, a new song is sung, and the most popular drinking song is "Helangar." Check on google to sing along.
The meals usually are topped off with fresh Swedish strawberries and whipped cream, and the Swedes will say they're the best due to the cool weather and the midnight sun. Another favorite dessert is the classic strawberry cake, aka "jordgubbstarta."
From the late Middle Ages, Swedes began raising and dancing around the Midsummer pole, decorated with fresh-cut birch boughs and an assortment of summer field flowers collected and festooned upon the pole, which is raised in the center of an open field or at their summer woodland summer cabins.
In the agrarian society, the Midsummer night was considered a time of magic and mystery when plants acquired healing powers and were used to predict the future.
Young maidens would pick seven flowers and put them under their pillow at night to dream of their future husbands. It is said that the flowers must be selected in silence, or the magic will be broken.
In the olden days in the northern part of Sweden, the cows were allowed to graze out in the pine forests, and milk maidens would tend and milk the cows. These young girls developed different singing songs to bring the cows out of the woods to be milked back in the hay barns.
Walking barefoot in the dew as the Midsummer night turned to dawn helps you stay healthy. And wearing a wreath of flowers in your hair is an old symbol of rebirth and fertility that is still practiced today.
I remember spending one summer at my grandparent's farm in northern Sweden, and as a young lad going to dances in converted old hay barns for some traditional dances, like the hambo, the two-step, and the waltz, and it was great fun. The music was played with violins and an accordion, like the old-fashioned squeezebox, and we danced the night away under the midnight sun. Play some ABBA music to get into the Swedish spirit and enjoy the "Dancing Queen" with your love one.
Here in Southern California is an organization called S.W.E.A., Swedish Women's Educational Association. They sponsor a huge Swedish festivity at the Vasa Park, out in the Malibu Hills, and you'll get a good taste of what a Midsummer party is with foods, games, picnic, dancing, the raising of the May Pole, and be amongst many Scandinavians from around Southern California.
In Balboa Park at the International Village in San Diego is the Sweden House which also holds a Midsummer party and is a local spot to capture the spirit of the summer's solstice to enjoy.
I hope my little tales have shared with you a few fun facts about the land of the Midnight sun, and perhaps you might assemble your own backyard festivities and enjoy the summer's solstice.
Glad Midsommar to one and all and enjoy the longest day of the year.
Roger Boddaert is available for creative landscapes at 760-728-4297.