Midsummer is Scandinavia's most popular seasonal festival after Christmas. A traditional celebration of the Summer solstice, Midsummer is the longest day of the year (June 21). In Sweden, Midsummer is even celebrated as a national holiday (also see Scandinavian national holidays). Most Midsummer's Eve celebrations take place on the Saturday between June 20 and June 26.
Celebrating the Summer Solstice
The celebration of the Summer solstice is a very ancient practice, dating back to pre-Christian times. Midsummer was originally a fertility festival with many customs and rituals associated with nature and with the hope for a good harvest the coming fall/autumn.
The Scandinavian Midsummer traditions stem from pagan times, showing the defeat of darkness to the powers of the sun god. This was the midway point of the harvest season in agrarian times, and as such, it was considered important to try to affect good fortune and good luck on Midsummer, with much emphasis on warding off evil spirits and negativity.
Like in every major Scandinavian tradition, celebrating with others goes hand in hand with good holiday food. Traditional food for Midsummer in Scandinavia are potatoes with herring or smoked fish, fresh fruit, and probably some schnapps and beer for the adults.
Sweden and Midsommar
In Sweden, where the festival is called "Midsommar", houses are decorated inside and out with wreaths and flower garlands. Most people in Sweden celebrate the evening before, and on Midsummer's day itself, many businesses are closed to allow workers to revel as they see fit.
Swedes then dance around the decorated midsummer pole while listening to traditional folk songs known to all. In Sweden, as in many other countries, the magic of Midsummer includes bonfires (which reminds of Swedish Walpurgis Night traditions), and divining the future, especially the identity of one's future spouse.
Midsummer in Denmark
In Denmark, Midsummer's Eve is also a popular day, celebrated with large bonfires and processions in the evening. It's believed that some version of Midsummer has been observed since the time of Vikings, and was a national holiday until the late 1700s. Danes traditionally celebrate on the eve before Midsummer.
In medieval times, Denmark's healers would collect the herbs they needed for medicinal purposes on Midsummer's Eve. And people would pay visits to water wells where it was believed they could ward off evil spirits
Among Danes, it's not just Midsummer's Eve but also Sankt Hans aften (St. John's Eve) which they celebrate on the eve of June 23rd. On that day, Danes sing their traditional "We Love Our Land" and burn straw witches on bonfires. This is done in Denmark in memory of the Church's witch burnings of the 16th and 17th century.
Norway Midsummer Celebrations
Known as Sankthansaften or in earlier times "Jonsok" (which means "John's wake"), Midsummer in Norway is marked by ceremonies that evolved from Christianity, which included pilgrimages to holy sites. Bonfires are part of the celebration, as are mock weddings, meant to symbolize new life and the new season.