My first Midsommar holiday was spent at Skansen in Stockholm with Courtney, John, and George on a day off from filming Allt för Sverige. It was a great first exposure to some of the major Midsommar traditions – making crowns from birch branches, eating strawberries, and dancing around the midsommar pole. But this year, I got to experience it in a whole new light by spending it with my family.
It was my Mom’s first time celebrating a traditional Swedish midsommar, so I wanted to her to be able to experience the traditional midsommar the way I did. My relatives have a summer house out in Österlen, so we found a local celebration to attend in Degeberga. It was a little chilly and drizzly (isn’t it always on Midsommar?) so our first order of business was going inside for fika and getting warm. What a cozy little place!
There was a small local crowd that was a nice contrast to the huge mass of people at Skansen. I could actually see the pole raising instead of just a sea of people in front of me! We enjoyed watching the dancers and then happily joined in ourselves! A little bird told me that usually there aren’t quite so many people participating in the dances… but evidently word got around that I was there with my family, so everybody joined in to show us a “real” Swedish midsommar! How’s that for hospitality? We all tried our hand at singing and dancing to “Små grodorna” and even my Dad and my husband got in on the action!
(A side note: In the months before I left for Sweden I was repeatedly surprised by little frogs… I found them on my patio, on flowers right in front of my face, one even hopped right on my foot! So when I was dancing like a small frog I was thinking they all were conspiring together for foreshadowing.)
After the big circle dances with the kids were done, I was paired off with one of the traditional dancers in a square-dance type of thing… my cousin Anne is a dancer so she knew all of them. I had no clue what I was doing but I love dancing, so I thoroughly enjoyed myself anyway!
When the dancing was over we went back to the summer house for the big meal. Our relatives were prepared for the wet weather so the dining table was set up outside, festively decorated. We had all the traditional holiday foods – meatballs and potatoes and lingon sylt and so many kinds of sill I can’t even remember them all. And then… the snaps.
Snaps is a Swedish spiced liquor related to vodka… aka “aquavit” or “brännvin.” It’s flavored with any number of herbs, like fennel, anise, or caraway. I had heard about the tradition of snaps (Anders Lundin introduced us to that concept during the Julspecial), but until you’ve encountered it “in the wild” you really don’t know what you’re dealing with. It’s a strong liquor of course, but the flavors vary pretty widely. One of the popular ones smelled exactly like DEET bug repellent, and my husband jokingly put it on his face and neck like bug spray. He also did not get a single bug bite. Coincidence?
The actual taste of the liquor I could take or leave, but a big part of the ritual is the drinking songs.
Every guest gets a small glass full of snaps. Then someone sings a snaps song, and at the end everyone says “skål!” and downs their glass. This repeats until the group runs out of songs, or liquor.
HINT: THEY WILL NOT RUN OUT OF SONGS. The lyrics will just get bawdier as they run out of songs fit for polite company. You might find yourself grateful that your parents don’t speak Swedish.
Now, the laws against drinking and driving in Sweden are really severe. The legal blood alcohol limit is only .02 (a quarter of what it is in my home state of Washington in the US!). That means that if you have even one drink, you can’t drive. So within each party you either have to have a designated driver, or a place for everyone to sleep. We had a couple of designated drivers so after lunch, we drove down to a little town on the Baltic Sea.
It was pretty as a picture – the sun started to peek through as we arrived and the water was perfectly clear. The seaweed was moving with the waves and looked like something right out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
While everyone else was waiting for dinner I decided to take a walk. The peaceful country lane was calling to me. As I walked, the sun finally came out full and bright, trickling through the trees. It felt like it was put there just for me as I walked and sang quietly to myself. A moment of stillness when I just stood in contentment, watching the dappled shadows change as the sun made it’s way across the sky, on the longest day of the year.
Even the longest and days must eventually come to an end. And the next day… it would be a homecoming generations in the making.