Celebrated primarily in Scandinavia, the Midsummer festival is a grand celebration of the Summer Solstice. It is a holiday rooted in both Christian and Pagan traditions, and people continue to participate in rituals and festivities that go back centuries. The heart of the festival is the midsommarstång – or the ‘Midsummer’s pole’ – a tall pole that members of the community decorate with flowers and leaves. This harkens back to the pagan belief that objects pertaining to nature possess magical powers. Gathering flowers and weaving them into wreaths and crowns is believed to promote fortune and good health throughout the rest of the year.
Scandinavia's Midsummer Festival
March 29 2019
In Sweden, it is a national holiday and families place green vines and flowers over their houses and barns (as it is supposed to invite good fortune and health into their homes and to their livestock). In Denmark, the festival is known as “sankthansaften” (the Eve of Saint John) and they celebrate the festival on the night before. The Danes do this by lighting bonfires along the shore and by remembering their ancestors who would gather medicinal herbs they would need for the rest of the year. Much like Denmark, Norway celebrates on the eve of the festival by lighting bonfires, but they also perform mock weddings to symbolize the blossoming of new life. Historically, Norway has had a more religious leaning than its counterparts and used to conduct pilgrimages to the Røldal Stave Church in Røldal (southwest Norway) whose crucifix was believed to have healing powers. Today, however, midsummer is very much a secular and cultural holiday.
Moreover, in Norway and Finland, the legend is that if a young woman picks 7 different flowers in silence on the midsummer’s night and puts them underneath her pillow, she will dream of her future husband. Perhaps, this is where Shakespeare got his inspiration for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
Another fun aspect of this holiday is the traditional dancing around the Midsummer pole. Though the dances have changed over the centuries, participants participate in traditional folk dancing and music as well as wear traditional Scandinavian patterns and outfits. In Sweden, they have ring dances and games for people of all ages to join in. Further, there is Små grodorna - a dance in which people of all ages dance around the midsummer pole while singing about little frogs. Being capricious and silly is just a part of the experience.
The midsummer festival is traditionally celebrated on June 24, the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but the Nordic countries generally celebrate it on the Saturday between June 20 and June 26. Festivities can be as small as an intimate family gathering or as extravagant as thousands of people within the same town. People all over Scandinavia, as well as Scandinavian communities around the world, continue to preserve their cultural heritage through the rituals and the traditions of the Midsummer festival.