The Real Midsummer: Celebrate the Summer Solstice The Swedish Way

by Holyn Thigpen

These days, “Midsummer” is mostly associated with that movie—you know, the one where Florence Pugh gets crowned May Queen of a sinister Scandinavian cult. But long before Ari Aster turned it into a psychedelic fright fest, Midsummer was (and remains!) a treasured celebration for Swedes.

More than anything, it’s about celebrating togetherness and showing gratitude for earth’s bounty. So bring some Midsummer magic into your own life by breaking out the drinks, lighting up a bonfire, and gathering friends for a game-filled dinner party.

Origin Story

Midsummer originates from Scandinavian pagan traditions that welcomed warm weather and fertile fields. Celebrated with the summer solstice, it always falls on the Saturday between June 20 and 26 (though epic festivities stretch across the whole week). Pagan Swedes believed early summer to be inherently magical and used the time to gather healing plants, decorate their homes with greenery, and even deck themselves out in ferns to become “green men.”

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Smaklig Måltid!

Eats and drinks are central to the fun. Pair pickled herring and cured salmon with crackers or mustard and mayonnaise for dipping. The libation of choice is aquavit—a distilled herbal spirit Swedes call “snaps” that’s been produced in Scandinavia since the 15th century. Serve it chilled in small tulip glasses. No Midsummer feast is complete without jordgubbstårta. Whip up this strawberry cake by mixing cut strawberries into vanilla cake batter, then top your creation with ricotta cheese (really!) and strawberry slices.

Game On

The maypole is a Midsummer staple. The huge wooden pole decorated with flowers and leaves serves as the centerpiece for traditional folk dances, including the Små grodorna, which has participants hop around while singing about tiny frogs. Outdoor games are a given (especially after a few rounds of snaps) and range from sack races to fiskdamm, where kids use sticks to “fish” for prizes behind a raised fabric. (Just whip out an old bed sheet, buy some candy, and boom: fiskdamm complete.) Another popular activity is a good old-fashioned taste test. Fill Mason jars with unlabeled herbs, beers, or even aquavits to see who can guess the most correctly.

Nature, Naturally

The Midsummer “look” isn’t complete without a crown of freshly picked flowers. Shape a piece of flower wire into a circle and use green floral tape to secure leaves and foliage as your base. Then beautify your crown with flowers (those with stems at least three inches long are easier to tape). After the festivities, dry and store the flowers, then display them during winter to ward off bad spirits. Oh, and if you fancy an energizing start to your day, another tradition is to wash one’s face with morning dew just as the summer sun rises. Early risers rejoice!

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