Global Holidays at Home: A Very Scandinavian Midsummer
School’s out and the vacation is still a few weeks away. What are parents to do with kids just itching to stay up late and wreak havoc? Go to Sweden, of course! Or at least, you can celebrate a Swedish holiday with all the hallmarks of a good summer festival.
The Swedish Midsummer Festival, which falls on the Friday between June 19 and 25 (near the first day of summer), is a celebration of the vacation season and an opportunity for Swedes to harness the endless light of the longest day of the year. At the far northern points of the country, that means the light can last all night!
In centuries past, Midsummer’s Eve was celebrated with a bonfire and dancing. The longest day of the year – conveniently close to the Summer Solstice – was traditionally a day of magic and country lore. The forest was alive, and many natural phenomena were imbued with transformative or healing power. Besides the pagan traditions, the Catholic Church has also ascribed a meaning to Midsummer: The birthday of John the Baptist.
Today, the Maypole is the center of Midsummer action. Decked out in ferns, leaves, and flowers, the pole is a perfect centerpiece for Swedish folk dancing and revelry.
Choose Your Own Tradition
Want to celebrate your own Midsummer in the U.S.? Although it might not remain light and bright all night like in Sweden, there are still plenty of similar ways you can celebrate. It all starts with the Maypole, or the Midsummer pole. Make your own with a fencepost or a thick dowel from the craft store or hardware store. Make sure the bottom end is pointed so you’ll be able to stick it into the ground outside.
Then, take your kids on a scavenger hunt to a local park, forest, or even around the neighborhood. You’re hunting for branches and leaves that you can weave around the pole. And flowers never hurt, either. Be sure to ask your neighbors before picking their flowers or bushes, though! Tell your kids to collect as many varieties of flowers as they can; they’ll come in handy later.
Once you’ve collected a garbage bag full of live branches, leaves, and flowers, bring them home to decorate the Maypole. You may need wire or string to link the leaves and connect them to the pole. Make your foliage as thick as possible, so none of the wood of the pole shows when you put it up.
Remember those flowers? If you have at least seven varieties, tell the kids to stick one of every variety under their pillow. Swedish legend has it that this variety of flowers will have kids dreaming of their future partners. Like all Swedish Midsummer magic, this is a one-night-only opportunity!
Have flowers left over? It’s time to make a floral crown for all the ladies in the family. After the Maypole has been placed and the crowns made, you’re ready for dancing! Go for traditional Swedish songs, or pick some of your own. The key is to eat, drink, dance, and be merry all day (and night) long!!
Feasting on the Fest
Eating for Swedish Midsummer is a pretty specific affair. It starts with a basic dish: boiled potatoes. From here, kids can dress them with common ingredients like chives, sour cream, dill, and cheese. Add in a Swedish favorite, pickled herring, for a true Midsummer dish. If that’s a tough sell for your kids, try serving other pickled things: Cucumbers, carrots, or cabbage are all good places to start.
From here, serve a grilled meat dish – spare rib and salmon are common – as your main course, and finish off with fresh-picked strawberries and cream.
Prepare this feast of freshness by taking your kids to a farm or farmer’s market for potatoes, veggies, and strawberries. Because the food is meant to be the first and freshest of the harvest, kids will appreciate its function in the festival if they’ve picked it themselves.
Party All Night
The best way to celebrate is to keep the party going. Listen to folk music, dance, tell stories in front of the campfire. Take your sleeping bags along and plan to lie underneath the stars when they finally come out. Don’t forget to put the flowers under your kids’ pillows while you dream of next Midsummer’s Eve!
What part of celebrating Midsummer are you most excited about? (It’s the herring, isn’t it?) Share your plans with us!