FOR Scandinavians, summer is time to celebrate.
The "midnight sun" pulls people out of their homes and beckons food fresh from the ground after a long, long winter.
Presently, people all over Scandinavia are gearing up for "Midsummer's Day," June 24, a celebration in honor of summer on the longest day of the year - the summer solstice. Most will celebrate - or start celebrating - next weekend.
Who can blame them? In a part of the world where there are really only two seasons - winter and summer - the welcome mat for summer might as well be the size of Europe. In summer, the sun hardly sets; a stark difference from winter, when it hardly rises.
"Midsummer's Day is one of our biggest holidays," says Anouschka Pearlman of Stockholm, acting chancellor at the consulate of Sweden in Boston. In summer, "the whole cultural personality changes drastically in Sweden."
Midsummer festivities traditionally include Maypoles, folk dances, accordion music, and lots of festivities, Ms. Pearlman continues. The night before, children pick seven different flowers and put them under their pillows and dream about their love, so the tradition goes.
"Scandinavians in general have a wonderful sense of entertaining," said Beatrice Ojakangas, author of "Scandinavian Feasts" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $37.50), in a Monitor interview. Ojakangas, who is of Finnish descent, has traveled throughout Scandinavia and Finland (although the Finnish consider themselves Scandinavian). "Scandinavians love good music and art," she continues. "Even in the countryside, you're hard-pressed to find bad taste."
Then, of course, there's food.
"When they celebrate, they celebrate in full force," says Ms. Ojakangas (pronounced "Oh-yah-kong-uss"). In Finland, for example, one might celebrate someone's retirement with an open house and a traditional "coffee table." "They invite everybody they know," she says. "It's not unusual to have 250 people over - they do it without flinching." A coffee table may feature seven kinds of baked goods, including a cardamom coffee bread, an un-iced cake, a decorated cake, cookies, and pastries.
Summer in Scandinavia means outdoor entertaining: Picnics, smorgasbords, from morning to midnight.
"[I]t isn't uncommon to be invited to a midnight supper after a concert or the theater," writes Ojakangas. "When the sky is light throughout the night, it's a marvelous time for entertaining.... The foods of summer are themselves cause for celebration: tiny garden vegetables, lettuces, berries, and fruits; fresh fish, sometimes plump with roe, from the streams, lakes, and seas; and dairy products, rich and creamy."
A midsummer's picnic might include: Dill-Marinated Salmon Fillets, Three Mustard Sauces, Danish Blue Cheese Salad, New Potato Salad, Oven-Fried Chicken, Tomatoes and Onions, Scandinavian Crispbreads and Butter, and Strawberries and Whipped Cream.
"It kind of reminds me of how we celebrate the Fourth of July," explains Ojakangas. Summertime finds Scandinavians at their cottages and cabins, on lakes and in the mountains. Camping, swimming, boating, hiking, relaxing, and entertaining all fit into the summertime mix. Festivals such as crayfish feasts and events at waffle cottages in northern Sweden also draw crowds.
"They always say that when they work, they work hard," says Ojakangas. "When they play, they play hard."