More on holidays: glad midsommar and happy Juneteenth

Glad midsommar (happy mid-summer eve!)... like most Swedish holidays, you celebrate the day before. Friday, 19 June is Sweden's midsommar holiday. We had been looking forward to celebrating- perhaps inviting ourselves to someone's family celebration and joining in. Heck, we even managed to learn at least some of the dance moves for a few of the songs. Alas, it is not to be. Reading reports about Sweden yesterday, the lines were out the door at the systembolaget (the state run alcohol store). People were trying to figure out what to do for midsommar- normally a raucous revelry of a lot of friends and family dancing around a maypole. From watching the facebook page for our neighborhood, people are planning to shelter in place to some extent- our local produce market asked for reservations for the much sought after strawberries, a key piece of the midsommar meal. 

Today is also Juneteenth in the U.S.- June 19th, or the day that the final slaves in Galveston, Texas were freed more than 2 years after the Civil War ended. Given the events in the U.S., this holiday has taken on new meaning and heightened attention- our local town is celebrating for the first time. 

On our end, we're back in our house and hoping to celebrate feeling home, though we're not yet there. The transition continues to be rough- though we hired cleaners to help, we still found disaster lurking in all the drawers and cupboards in the house. A half eaten sandwich in the closet. Toothpaste tube in the pantry. We had been in email correspondence with our tenants, who asked about washing the upholstery on our chairs. That kind of care didn't correspond with the mess we found. Can't make sense of it. Just trying to reclaim our home. Our 15 year old dog is home with us, as is our 15 year old cat (who is none to happy with her trip to the car wash yesterday for a bath in the doggy spa). Yet to find: one missing box of stuff mailed from Sweden. House plants. Our health (surgery for me next week to remove my gall bladder; Chris still struggling). 

In the meantime, we're cleaning and hoping to have a dinner of salmon, potatoes, and some non-alcoholic (so very non-Swedish of us) but festive beverages tonight to celebrate midsommar. If you see us dancing around like frogs or singing songs with flower wreaths on our heads, keep in mind the traditions below.

From The Local Sweden:

Midsummer is one of the oldest and most widely celebrated holidays of the year in Sweden, but to the uninitiated, some of the festivities can seem a little bit... odd.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic means that large gatherings are not advised, with authorities asking people to celebrate only with their closest friends and family, keep a distance from people from other households, and of course keep following good hand hygiene.

While it may look different this year, here's a look at the usual ingredients of a Swedish Midsummer, and how they became traditions.

1. The Midsummer maypole (Midsommarstången)

At the centre of the traditional celebrations is the maypole, in Swedish called the Midsommarstången. And if you were thinking there's something rather phallic about a tall pole with two large hoops at the top, that's sort of the point -- many people believe it originated as a symbol of fertility.

Others say the shape has its roots in Norse mythology, and that it represents an axis linking the underworld, earth, and heavens. Whichever story you choose to believe, there's no denying it's a little strange to have a festival that boils down to erecting a large pole and dancing around it... 

2. The frog dance

Ah yes, the dancing. The peak of the festivities sees the Swedes imitate frogs, hopping around the maypole while singing the classic tune 'Små grodorna' (The small frogs), which describes frogs in (biologically incorrect) detail.

An excerpt from the lyrics: "The small frogs, the small frogs, are funny to look at. No tails, no tails, they have no tails. No ears, no ears, they have no ears."

See Alicia Vikander demonstrate the dance in the video below.

3. All the herring

Herring is a fixture of most Swedish celebrations, and Midsummer is no exception. The Swedes eat tonnes of the stuff, in all its forms: pickled, smoked, fermented, served with onions, served with dill... there's a lot of fish.

4. Weather chat

Small talk might not exactly be a big thing in Sweden, but Swedes do tend to talk about the weather a lot. This is turned up a notch as the three-day Midsummer weekend approaches and the entire country and media keep their fingers crossed for sunshine ... but invariably end up with rain, and occasionally even snow. At this point, the disappointing weather, and the chance to moan about it, is all part of the fun.

5. The drinking songs

If you were wondering what leads the generally reserved Swedes to spend their Midsummer dancing like frogs around a maypole, it may not come as a surprise that alcohol is involved -- a lot of it. Along with Christmas, Midsummer is one of the biggest drinking days in Sweden. Watch out for flavoured snaps, which are far stronger than you might guess.

And note that it helps to plan ahead: since alcohol can only be bought at the state-run monopoly which closes its stores on public holidays, the shops get very busy in the days before and may even run low on the most popular beverages.

All this day-drinking comes hand in hand with drinking songs. One of the most common tunes you'll hear is Helan Går ('The whole thing goes', referring to the drink). A loose translation of some of the lyrics would be "Chug it down, Sing 'hup-de-la-la-la-loo-lah-lay', chug it down, Sing 'hup-de-la-la-lah-lay, And he who doesn't chug it down, then he won't get the other half either".

6. The flowers

You'll see people wearing a flower wreath in their hair, regardless of age and gender. Flowers are also used to dress up the maypole.

According to Swedish tradition, you should also pick seven kinds of flowers (in some parts of Sweden it's nine flowers) and put them underneath your pillow. Then you'll dream about your future husband or wife.

No-one escapes the flower crown. Photo: Stefan Berg/Folio/

Swedes also believe that flowers can help them in their love lives. This isn't just because the garlands will attract potential partners, but rather tradition states that if a Midsummer reveller collects seven different species of flower from seven different spots, then puts the bouquet under their pillow, they will dream of their future spouse that night.

7. Strawberry watch

Strawberries are another fixture on the Midsummer menu. But for traditionalists, they absolutely have to be Swedish. This results in months of press coverage about the state of the strawberry harvest -- will they be ripe in time for Midsummer? Will the harvest be bigger or smaller than usual? Swedes are fiercely proud of their rather tiny but super sweet variety of strawberries.


Speaking of strawberries, here's what to expect for food:

Celebrate Solstice Like a Swede: A Guide to Swedish Midsummerby ANNA BRONES

In Sweden, a country that’s cold and dark for much of the year, celebrating the sun is of the utmost importance. This is why the national holiday midsommar is a much awaited for affair. Midsommar is my favorite day of the year, and no matter where I am I make it a point to celebrate.

Want to join in? Here’s a guide to celebrating Swedish Midsummer like a Swede.

The afternoon of Midsummer’s Eve calls for dancing around a large pole decorated in branches and flowers, and the evening is reserved for eating and celebrating with friends. Because you’re celebrating summer, it’s important to be outside. Only a downpour will get a Swede to move the party indoors. Grab a wool sweater if you get cold, because a good Swedish midsummer dinner goes into the late hours.

The cornerstones of a good midsummer are freshly picked flowers, like daisies and clover (there’s a legend that if you pick seven kinds of flowers and put them under your pillow on Midsummer’s Eve, you’ll dream of the person you’re to spend your life with), birch branches, aquavit, pickled herring, boiled potatoes and a dessert involving strawberries. The table is heavy on seasonal and local foods.

If you’re lucky enough to travel to Sweden for midsummer, it’s an event you’ll never forget. But fortunately, you don’t have to travel to the land of midnight sun. Celebrating Swedish midsummer no matter where you are is perfectly doable, as long as you have the right food and drink in place.

No midsummer table will be complete without snaps. No, this is not the peppermint version you put in hot chocolate. This is aquavit, often flavored with classic Scandinavian spices like caraway and anise. You can find several imported kinds of aquavit, but there are a few American distilleries making it now, including Gamle Ode, House Spirits Distillery, Sound Spirits, The Hardware Distillery Co., and North Shore Distillery.

But don’t think that you can just drink your nubbe as the Swedes call it. Snaps comes with snapsvisor, essentially “snaps songs.” They’re songs that all Swedes know, and as the night goes on they tend to get louder and crazier.

Beyond snaps, serve a light beer. For the non-alcoholic crowd, a cordial, like one made from lingonberries or elderflower, is in order, which you can easily make festive by adding sparkling water.

There’s a reason that the Swedes are famous for the smörgåsbord. At feasts like midsummer it’s common to have many dishes on the table that you can pick and choose from.

No Swedish midsummer celebration is complete without pickled herring, called sill in Swedish, and boiled potatoes with dill. The potatoes are most often new potatoes, freshly harvested potatoes that are smaller than their older counterparts. You can go wild with the pickled herring, putting out several varieties on the table. Make sure there’s a bowl of crème fraîche or sour cream with chopped chives to go with.

Salmon is a common main dish at midsummer, and you can also serve gravadlax. This special cured salmon is perfect for piling onto a piece of knäckebröd (hardtack or crispbread).

The essentials of a midsummer dessert are easy: strawberries and whipped cream. Sometimes that’s in cake form, called a jordgubbstårta, sometimes they’re just on their own, but the key is getting freshly picked, bright red berries.

Many Swedes will put a sticky chocolate cake on the table for good measure. Because if anything pairs well with strawberries and whipped cream, it’s certainly chocolate.