In the end of June every year Midsummer happens. It’s a day with a lot of good food, drinks, snaps, games, dancing, flowers, and everything summer. It also happens to be one of my favourite holidays. If you’re not from Sweden you may not be familiar with Midsummer, so you can view this as your introduction. If you are familiar with it, you may have heard about it as a day where Swedish people have flowers in their hair and dance around a maypole, not totally incorrect. Anyway, whether you’re familiar with it or not, here’s a guide to how you survive a Swedish Midsummer.
Snaps, Sill, and Songs.
The Midsummer lunch is one of two important events during Midsummer, it’s filled with delicious food and drinks, and is usually goes on for hours! On the table you’ll find potatoes, salmon, salad, bread, meatballs, egg, ham and sill (a very Swedish thing and a must try – it’s pickled herring in sauce). You’ll also find more schnapps than you’ve ever seen before, if you don’t know what schnapps are – it’s small bottles of really strong alcohol you drink as a shot. To be noted, before taking the shot of schnapps, someone or everyone, sings a dirty song. Singing adds to the festive spirit of the holiday, and as the hours go by and the evening proceeds, the songs usually gets dirtier and the words get more slurred, it’s a celebration after all.
During Midsummer (and Christmas and Easter) we drink a lot of schnapps, so if you want to get through the lunch and still be on your feet, don’t drink the whole shot at once. Fill up the glass and drink from it two or three times before filling it up again. Trust me, there will be plenty of opportunity to drink, so no need to go bottom up!
Other than schnapps a really important item on the table is the pickled herring, the sill in Swedish. The fish does look really gross, and smells even worse, but if you’re experiencing Midsummer for the first time, you really need to try it! It took my many years to actually like sill, but now I love it, so don’t feel bad if you don’t like it – no one is expecting you to anyway!
Flowers, dancing, and a maypole
Other than the lunch the dancing is a big part of the Midsummer celebrations. After lunch we usually go to a field of some sort, depending on where in Sweden you celebrate, and dance around a maypole. During the whole day people are dressed in a summer fashion and have flowers in their hair, so from an outside perspective looking like that and dancing around a maypole would look a bit weird – I get it. But don’t knock it ’til you try it!
Join in as people dance in a circle while singing songs in Swedish. Enjoy the troubadour playing guitar and the children playing in the grass. The most common song people sing and dance to is Små Grodorna (little frogs in English) and while singing we all dance in a circle.
Swedish Midsummer is quite the celebration and if you’re planning to visit Sweden during summer, I would highly recommend you coordinate it with this holiday!