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Swedish Midsummer 


Midsummer is the occasion of much festivity in Sweden.  This is when the summer days are longest; in the north it is the time of the Midnight Sun.  Taken literally, "Midsummer" is something of a misnomer since, given Sweden's northerly clime, summer is only just beginning.  Consequently, in many respects Midsummer celebrations in Sweden resemble May Day festivities on the Continent.

On the ecclesiastical calendar the 24th of June is dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and in many countries Midsummer is celebrated as the Feast of St. John.  In Sweden it was decided in the 1950s that Midsummer should always be celebrated on the weekend nearest the 24th, with Midsummer Day on Saturday.  Many folk traditions are associated with this holiday, most of them relating to Midsummer Eve.  In some parts of the country people continue to observe these customs on the 23rd of June, calendar reform or no.

On the morning of Midsummer Eve Swedes decorate their homes, cars, churches, dancing pavilions and auditoria with garlands of flowers and leafy branches.  Then, in the afternoon, they gather round the maypole.  Practically every town and village, however small, has a maypole, a tall cross clad with leaves and flowers.  The pole is raised in the mid-afternoon in the center of the village square or playground.  Once the pole is raised, the dance begins.  First in a ring around the pole, then, later in the evening, a dance in, say, a barn or on a jetty or outdoor pavilion.
Most city dwellers flee the city for the countryside at Midsummer, sometimes traveling some distances.  Some regions and provinces are widely renowned for their celebrations: tens of thousands of tourist flock, for example, to Dalarna in central Sweden.  Many Stockholmers seek out a favorite island in the archipelago, while others stroll to Skansen, the oldest open-air museum in the world.  Apart from all its historical buildings, Skansen is also a vital center for national festivities.  The festivities at the various rural iron mills in Uppland, north of Stockholm, are also popular.
Typical Midsummer menus feature different kinds of pickled herring and boiled new potatoes with fresh dill and a dessert of garden-fresh strawberries.
As in the case of many other Swedish "eves", Midsummer Eve is also believed to be a night of supernatural happenings and magical powers.  The dew this night is believed to have special properties.  He or she who manages to collect a small flask of Midsummer dew can use it to cure illness.  Certain plants are also collected for the same purpose.  With luck, you might see the ferns bloom (!), for in olden days people believed they bloomed on this night.  The best way to find out whom you will marry is to pick a bouquet of seven or nine different varieties of flowers from as many meadows or ditches and place it under your pillow.  Then, you will dream of your bride or groom-to-be.  Another way to learn of future events is to eat "dream herring" or "dream porridge" with plenty of salt in it.
Source: "Traditional Festivities in Sweden"; Author: Ingemar Liman; Published by: The Swedish Institute, ISBN 91-520-0113-X
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