June 23, 2012 “Midsommar!”

It is all downhill from here I guess.  The summer solstice has come and gone and the days are now getting shorter.  My headache has even come and gone as I have sobered up from celebrating the best Swedish holiday which is named in honor of the longest day of the year, Midsommar’s Night Eve.  As you can see by the bill for the drinks pictured, I may be paying off the bill for some time as are many of the Swedes who have similar bills. Apparently if you measure it in metric it doesn’t seem so expensive a bill?  I’m not sure I believe that.

What exactly is Swedish Midsommar?

Some things Midsommar is:  It is a national holiday, which is set on the weekend closest to the summer solstice and the biggest day of partying is on the Friday, NOT the Saturday.  (Apparently the Saturday is for sobering up?!) It can include copious drinking, outdoor activities, toasting and more drinking, barbequing, a raising of a clearly phallic looking pole complete with two testicle looking rings in a field, with singing and dancing around it.  It can include outdoor activities, eating aphrodisiac fish, and more drinking, maidens wearing flowers in their hair, more drinking, more singing, and eating, …and finally drinking (did I say that yet?).  They even put tree branches on the front of the trains running on that day.  Why?  I don’t know, but I’ve never seen tree branches anywhere else nor on any other day in Sweden, so it must be important for the festivities…?

Midsommar does not appear to involve human sacrifice or an orgy although what happened two hundred years ago, I do not know as nobody talked about it or wrote it down because the peasants either couldn’t write or were too drunk to find paper.  It does not increase fertility although it seems more Swedes (including me) are born in March than any other month but that could just be coincidental and the anecdotal evidence of what happens after midnight is not totally clear.  In Stockholm and Mora, party central apparently for many, the sun actually sets.  Eventhough it does, it doesn’t really get dark for more than an hour or two, the full midnight sun is a few hundred miles north of here.  You can see light in the northern sky all night which is kind of cool.

This year’s Midsommar for us included sailing as the weather was absolutely perfect.  In typical Swedish fashion, we came back from the activities on the water and made a BBQ on a rock.   The rocks nearby were littered with naked souls soaking up the sun which isn’t that atypical as hot sunny days are not all that common here, especially on holidays and one needs all the vitamin D they can get.  We drank wine, and schnapps, mixed drinks, beer, and some whisky from Scotland.  When we were sitting down to eat, thirty people showed up at the dock next to us, just to drink champaine and toast in the day on their sailboat.  They never took it out of the port and didn’t seem to want to leave.  Apparently it developed into an impromptu party as more people and more alcohol were arriving just as we were leaving.

Twenty thousand people showed up this year in Mora, Sweden, the home of one of the world’s biggest Midsommar’s proponents, the Swedish painter, Anders Zorn who lived at the turn of the twentieth century.  He famously spurned a hundred thousand dollars from John D Rockefeller for a commissioned portrait as he needed to sail back to Sweden as he never missed a Midsommar.  A good party trumped a great deal of money.  Apparently celebrating at the same spot pictured in his paintings is one of those places to be in life like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Last year we danced with the Swedes in Stockholm at Skansen, which included like fifty thousand tourists and locals.  Last year we jumped right in: the girls had garlands in their hair, and we even did the “frog dance.”  This year was a more low keyed affair and to be honest, the hangover was more merciful so no complaints by us.   We were critically low on ibuprofen.  I was warned by our Swedish friends to prepare and I did not as it turns out do a very good job.

It can be really difficult to sleep in Scandinavia in the summer time do to the short nights and being here takes me some getting used to, but I’m not complaining, it beats the opposite in December, at the celebration of the darkest day, another pagan holiday converted to something else, maybe Christian, maybe not, that one called St. Lucia day.

Whatever the origins of the holiday, it is fun to see the Swedes celebrate it with such passion.  Our summer holiday, July 4th in the USA can also be celebrated with some passion, but it does not compare to the singing and dancing here in Sweden.  Going to Mora or a smaller center in Sweden and doing a full Midsommar party, with the raising of the Maypole is one of those things, everyone should do once in their life.  However, two words of advice:  bring extra ibuprofen and bring your Visa card as it appears most places don’t take American Express, and make sure you can handle a two foot bar tab.

Glad Midsommar!

Olaf

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