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What Is Midsommar?

Updated June 21, 2021 6.1k views14 items

Some festivals exist in almost every culture. Most cultures have a winter festival, for example, and most have a spring fertility festival. Another common celebration is the annual summer solstice festival. This festival comes at the height of summer and is often an expression of joy and love.

For those whose only exposure to the festival is the hit horror film Midsommar, it may come as a surprise that the real summer solstice is actually one of the most upbeat and joyous celebrations in the world. A story more in keeping with the spirit of the festival might be Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream or Ingmar Bergman's Smiles Of A Summer Night. These narratives of love, magic, and mistaken identities truly reflect the values of Midsommar.

What is the Midsommar festival? While there are dozens of summer solstice festivals around the world, Midsommar itself is specific to Sweden, with a rich and particular history. There are many strange superstitions surrounding it, many of which involve finding the love of your life. There is also the tradition of the Maypole, the bonfires, and the fascinating history of the Green Men.

Midsommar is not just an ancient pagan ritual. The Midsommar festival continued through the coming of Christianity and has survived to this day. Each year, tens of thousands flock to Sweden to participate in some of the biggest Midsommar festivals, proving that the event has lost none of its appeal over the centuries.

  • On Midsommar Eve, You Put Seven Flowers Under Your Pillow And You Will Dream About Your Soulmate

    Midsommar has always been at least partly a celebration of youth, and there are several traditions that have to do with finding the love of your life.

    The most well-known tradition suggests that if a young, single woman puts seven kinds of flowers underneath her pillow on Midsommar Eve, she will dream about her future husband

  • Swedes Perform A Dance Called 'Little Frogs'

    Video: YouTube

    Once the maypole is erected, adults and children will gather around for the traditional Små grodorna, which is a dance featuring adults and children leaping around like frogs. This intentionally goofy dance can be performed around the maypole, or simply in any available space.

    The song to which the dance is performed translates roughly as:

    The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.

    The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe.

    No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.

    No ears, no ears, no tails do they possess.

    This is followed by a series of chirps (reportedly the sound that frogs make) that is transcribed as "kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack..."

  • Photo: Annica Elg / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    There Is A Glorious Feast

    As might be expected for a Midsommar festival, there is a bounty of food to accompany the party. This is done in a classic Swedish style, with an enormous amount of smoked fish and traditional Swedish delicacies, including smoked salmon, pickled herring, gravlax, boiled potatoes with dill, and an assortment of grilled meat. Dessert is often a traditional strawberry cake.

    This feast has roots in the industrial communities of Sweden, where mill owners would give their employees a feast for the Midsommar solstice. This feast is one of the more recent additions to the festival, becoming traditional only in the 1900s.

  • The Festival Used To Honor St. John The Baptist, But It Has Pre-Christian Roots

    One of the features that allowed Christianity to spread across Europe so quickly was its syncretism, which simply means its willingness to absorb and rename pagan religious traditions. This, for example, is why Christmas was set as the date of Jesus's birth, so that pagans could continue celebrating their Yule festival, just under a new name.

    In much the same way, the traditional Midsommar festivals were often changed to celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist. While the locals in Sweden may have agreed to honor St. John by name, most aspects of the festival were untouched.

    Some of the ways Christian iconography influenced the festival is in the cross motif of the maypole, as well as the tradition of drinking healing water, which echoes St. John's baptism of Jesus.