The summer solstice and celebration of Midsummer’s Eve

We have now passed the summer solstice and are heading for darker times again. As the pessimist I am I already see Christmas lurking around the corner.

The Midnight Sun still rules in the far north, but even we who live further south can still benefit from and enjoy long sunny evenings for a while. Even though the sun sets for a few hours it still never gets completely dark, it’s more like a magical twilight. For a few brief and bright summer months we now eagerly try to refuel light and vitamin D to last for at least a few months into the long, dark winter.

In connection with the summer solstice, we have this past weekend also celebrated the most Swedish of all Swedish public holidays – Midsummer – and I’ll here give you a short summary in words and pictures of what the Swedish Midsummer celebration is actually like.

It’s the night before Midsummer’s Eve and our friends Carin and Daniele, who are on their way from Stockholm to celebrate Midsummer with us, are stuck in the chaos of holiday traffic. While waiting for them to arrive, we went to Lake Hennan, a nearby lake, to watch the sunset, which occurred a few minutes past 11 pm.

This picture is taken at our own lake at 00:33 am and it is still bright enough to sit by the water and read. Shortly before 03 am, the sun rises again.

After breakfast on the morning of Midsummer’s Eve it’s time to pick flowers for decorating the maypole. Nature is never more beautiful than now with its lush greenery, the birds singing and the stunning flower meadows with butter cups, wild chervil, crane bill geraniums, daisies and red clover.

It almost looks a little macabre with this erected, “naked” cross on the lawn, but it will soon be adorned with flowers, birch leaves and wreaths.

Carin looking through her wreath.

Most communities celebrate Midsummer by decorating and erecting a community maypole in the local park or field where families and friends then gather to sing and dance ring dances around the pole. Ourselves, we were just pleased by sitting on the lawn, admiring and enjoying this “masterpiece of maypole” we had accomplished.

Midsummer’s Eve also means drinking and eating, especially pickled herring in various forms, marinated (cured) salmon, the first new potatoes of the year, dill and sour cream, meatballs and maybe some different kinds of pies. And finally – the schnapps (snaps), often flavored with cumin, elderberry or blackcurrant. And every shot shall be accompanied by a song, the racier the better.

All of  this shall of course be served outdoors, if possible, on the porch, lawn or jetty. And then, and this is more of a rule than an exception, just as you have all gathered at the table, put a few pieces of herring in your mouth and raised the glasses for a first toast, the rain starts pouring down. If you are not protected by a roof, the only thing to do is to quickly bring food, schnapps – you wouldn’t want the alcohol to be diluted, would you – and the seat cushions  indoors. And just when everything is brought in safety the sun breaks through and you just have to start all over again. The Swedish midsummer in a nutshell, that is!

Finally it’s time for the grand finale, the almost compulsory strawberry cream cake made of the first, fresh Swedish strawberries, regardless of price. On our Midsummer table, there were actually two cakes, an egg and nut free cheese cake especially made for Daniele who is strongly allergic.

I do not know if outdoor dances is a Swedish phenomenon, but for many the evening/night ends at some nearby outdoor dance floor, often to the music from accordions and fiddles. For us the evening ended at the local pub that offered live music and spontaneous dancing.

The Midsummer night is bright and seductive, and there are many different myths associated with it. One is to pick seven different flowers (in silence) and put under the pillow to dream of the future spouse. I do not know though if Carin, who is going to marry her Italian fiancé Daniele in Las Vegas later this summer, picked any flowers trying to find out if she’s made the right choice. I forgot to ask. But I’m sure Daniele is the right man for her.

The Swedish Midsummer night’s dream is almost over.

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