Sweden: Ancient Viking celebration of Midsummer lives on
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
RÄTTVIK, SWEDEN – Since Sweden’s pre-Christian times, its Vikings have feted the summer solstice – the longest day of the year. June 19 marks Sweden’s holiday of “Midsummer” – the high point of this latitude’s midnight sun – with feasting, parades, and national pride.
“It’s very Swedish, something that unites Swedes,” is how one reveler explained the Midsummer festivities. “It’s the ‘old thing,’ ” another good-naturedly joked. In at least one way, it’s old indeed – people in 18th-century-style clothing are everywhere.
Throughout much of the countryside, people dress in traditional folk costumes. Feasts are prepared and virtually everyone celebrates nature and heritage with regional music, dance, and the inevitable maypole – a symbol from Midsummer’s earliest beginnings. In recent times, it’s mostly children that dance around the maypole, and much of the holiday is centered around the young.
Essentially the holiday embodies pre-Christian Viking rituals celebrating the earth’s magical rebirth. When Christianity came to Sweden, the ancient Swedish Church shrewdly kept the holiday, simply dedicating it to the birth of St. John.
Today, the fertility of Midsummer is still celebrated by young women who place a bouquet of varied wildflowers under their pillows, tradition promising that doing so will bring dreams of one’s future spouse. And indeed, the return of long days and fields of color after a winter of darkness create a Midsummer that is truly enchanted.