By: A. Jabur
Midsummer is the main national holiday in Sweden and Finland but is celebrated widely throughout Scandinavia. It celebrates the summer solstice (the longest day of the year) as well as the midpoint of the harvest season. This date changes every year, usually falling between the 20th – 25th of June. It also coincides and is often celebrated along with St. John’s Day, a Christian feast day that celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist, observed on the 24th of June.
During Midsummer, many people visit the countryside to celebrate with their families. The holiday is known for its many traditional rituals, such as dancing, lighting a bonfire, singing, drinking, and lighting fireworks. However, the festival is perhaps most known for the Maypole, a tall wooden pole covered completely with flowers, and the traditional dances and songs that are performed around it. The clothes customarily worn in the festival have also become one of its most well-known points, as the long white frocks embroidered with colorful patterns have become almost synonymous with Scandinavian traditions.
Midsummer has its origins in a Pagan tradition that welcomed Summer and assured a successful harvest season- it has been celebrated for thousands of years and was associated with gods such as Ukko, the Finnish god of thunder. In the past, it was believed that loud behavior would bring luck by driving away evil spirits, which is why the period of Midsummer is associated with success, luck, and healing. Love spells were often cast during this time, as it was believed to be a magical period of good fortune. With the spread of Christianity, Midsummer began to be celebrated along with St. John’s Day.
Currently, many of these originally pagan customs- such as lighting bonfires, drinking, dancing, and collecting flowers- are still core parts of the Midsummer festivities, but many new traditions have been incorporated, such as eating pickled herring with chives and sour cream and wearing beautiful handmade flower wreaths as accessories.