“Swedish Midsummer is a holiday devoted to eating, drinking, dancing, and assorted Pagan rituals,” says the hilarious “Swedish Midsummer for Dummies” video found on Sweden’s YouTube channel. Where do we sign up?
While this holiday is the biggest one of the year in Sweden, it hasn’t made much of an impact in North America (yet), so let’s change that, shall we?
There are a few Swedish Midsummer (or Midsommar) festivals that feature similar rituals to those found in Sweden, but we could use more. So many more. If you can’t find one near you, consider throwing an impromptu Swedish Midsummer eve (or day) party that’s as authentic or non-traditional as you like. In 2016 Swedish Midsummer falls on the 25th, so in Sweden everyone will take off early on the Friday before, pile into cars, and head out to the country, not unlike what may be happening on the next long weekend in your neck of the woods.
Swedish Midsummer is an especially interesting holiday because it goes back hundreds of years, and features traditions that people celebrated since before such things were written down. In some parts of Sweden, the sun won’t set at all, and the longest night on the 24th anywhere in the country will only be about 2 hours. That’s plenty of time for all the eating, drinking, dancing, singing, more eating, more drinking, and maypole weaving that will go down this weekend.
So, how can you capture a little Swedish Midsummer of your very own? Here are a few ways:
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
You’ll need beer and nubbe (or snaps), which is a general term for Swedish vodka or spiced aquavit served cold in a shotglass. If you can’t find something fancy, Absolut will work very well. There are also a few American distilleries that make aquavit, if you’d like to keep things local.
The recommended amount of drinking is two beers per shot of nube. We have some thoughts on the vessel you may want to use to drink those beers…just sayin’.
As for which beer to drink, well, keep it light. This is meant to be an outdoors event as a celebration of the sun and all of its budding bounty. Fill your horn with your favorite lager or Swedish beer (if you can find one).
Absolut Raspberri Sunrise Recipe
If you’re not one to down shots, there are other ways to get some Swedish vodka into your belly, like this Absolut Raspberri Sunrise. You’ll need:
- 1 oz. Absolut Raspberri
- Orange juice and orange wedge
- dash genadine
To make this one, fill a chilled glass (or your horn) with ice cubes. Add the Raspberri and grenadine, and top up with orange juice. Garnish with your orange wedge.
If you’d like to be as traditional as possible, you’ll need to get yourself some aquavit (or akvavit) which is a spiced spirit that’s been made in Scandinavia since the 15th century. The main spice in aquavit is caraway or dill, and it contains 40% alcohol, so have fun (and be careful). On Swedish Midsummer, aquavit will be served chilled in a shot glass, but don’t shoot it, just sip it. (Or do what you want – we’ll never know).
The three essentials for a traditional Swedish Midsummer meal are pickled herring, boiled potatoes seasoned with dill, and strawberries and cream or strawberry cake, should someone have had the forethought to make one for the occasion.
The evening meal should be eaten outside if at all possible, where people can best appreciate the light of the sun as it stretches long into the night. It’s important to Swedes to grab that sun and hold on as long as possible, because winter nights are just as long as summer ones.
Strawberry Mead Recipe
Not to backtrack, but let’s go back to drinking just for a sec.
If you have some strawberries left over from the evening’s celebration, it seems only appropriate to make some strawberry mead that you can drink at next year’s Midsummer celebration.
- 3 lbs honey
- 3 lbs strawberries
- 1 yeast packet
- pectic enzyme (optional)
- yeast nutrient of your choosing (handful of raisins or yeast nutrient purchased from the brew shop)
Add all ingredients straight into your 1 gallon container. Fill to the neck with spring water, leaving a little headspace for fermentation over the first few days. Cap and shake the carboy until everything is mixed and you can’t see any honey hanging out on the bottom. Secure your airlock.
Ferment for a week, and rack when the airlock shows a bubble every 30 seconds or so. Once airlock activity has ceased, it’s time to bottle. Cold crash (put it in the fridge overnight) and/or add pectic enzyme to clear up the cloudiness. It won’t hurt it to stay in the carboy a little longer if you’d like to wait. Age in your carboy or in the bottle for 6 months or longer.
What to wear
Sort of like Coachella but not as annoying, flower wreath crowns are important part of the festivities. To make a super fresh floral wreath, you just need a few flowers with greens and stems, maybe some baby’s breath, and a bit of the thin green wire you can find at the craft store (or ribbon, or whatever you’ve got – lookin’ at you, guy who duct tapes everything). If you’re feeling a bit too manly for the flowers, you can make a crown of leaves.
Very early on, some people dressed up as “green men” for the occasion, wearing ferns all over their clothing.
People traditionally wore white clothing or traditional folk costumes, but in modern times, many have taken to wearing anything Swedish, like Swedish soccer jerseys or T-shirts.
Rituals and Traditions
While human sacrifices were once an important part of Scandinavian Midsummer festivities, that is most definitely a thing of the past. As far as the rest of the rituals, many are performed exactly how they have been for hundreds of years.
The maypole is an iconic symbol of midsummer, and replaces the sacrifices of the past as the Swedish homage to fertility. On Midsummer eve, maypoles featuring two triangles and two circles are decorated with leaves and flowers and erected outdoors, where celebrants will dance the night away into Saturday morning. A song traditionally sung around the maypole is “The Little Frogs,” which, of course, has a froggy dance where people jump around in unison.
Before you scoff, I have two words for you: Chicken dance. Get to drinking, then get to hopping. It’s fun.
Here are the words of the song:
“Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.”
“The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.
No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.”
Besides eating, drinking, and the maypole, another crucial component of Swedish Midsummer is to grab as many flowers as you can and put them everywhere. On the tables, on your head, and even under your pillow. If you’re an unmarried woman, it’s important to put a flower under your pillow in order to catch yourself a husband. Here are the specific directions:
- Pick seven different species of flower on your way home from work or school on Friday
- Lay them under your pillow
- Pay attention to your dreams – your future husband will appear.
According to the state website of Sweden, Midsummer’s eve is an important and magical time for all types of love. “During this night many a relationship is put to the test. Under the influence of alcohol, the truth will come out, which can lead both to marriage and divorce.”
An important part of Midsummer rituals dating all the way back to the 6th century is actually something you may be doing this weekend whether you planned on it or not – building a bonfire.
Pick any of these components you’d like for your own Midsummer festivities, but most importantly, be thankful for the sunlight – it’s officially summer!