The longest time of the year in Sweden is between January and Midsummer. The winters are completely dark and cold. By the end of February the light is coming back slowly.
As the days have gotten longer, we look forward to participating in the most important holiday in Sweden and in Swedish America,…. Midsummer. In the United States, the Swedes and Nordics are celebrating on June 19th. In Sweden the holiday is celebrated on the first Friday after June 21st, which is June 25th this year.
It is early on a midsummer June morning. All the forests and meadows have burst full with luscious greens and wildflowers.
It is here that we walk together as a family, gathering flowers to be hung on our maypole, which will serve as the center of our midsummer celebration.
After all of the blooms and greenery have been gathered, we set to work making wreaths for our hair, bouquets for the table which will be set with great food, and most important of all, decorating the majstång or maypole.
As I and my cousins work outside with the flowers, I hear other family and friends tuning up their instruments, playing little snippets of songs and lots of laughter. From the kitchen I can hear the clanking of pots, the clunking of platters, and the smell of the barbeque, which can only mean one thing….hotdogs and Swedish meatballs.
It is time to get dressed. Every region of Sweden has its costumes. Many of my family members and friends love to wear their folk costumes during Midsummer.
Now that everyone is ready, it’s time to raise the maypole and get this party going.
The musicians enter and the rest of us follow, making a ring which keeps spiraling inward to make room for all of us.
The Maypole Boys (well that’s what we call them) lift up the maypole into a hole in the ground using sticks and sheer force. Once it is set, cheers go up and the music starts. We begin singing and dancing; two of our favorite things to do.
First we do a round dance and then it’s time for the Midsummer songs or singing games. While we are around the Maypole there are three very famous songs. The first is “We are Musicians”, which involves pretending to play a selection of instruments. The second is “The Rocket” which lets us recreate a firework display through mime. Last but not least, “The Little Frog” has us hopping around like little frogs. Littered between these songs are many round dances, laughing and working up an appetite for the next part of our celebration which is the feasting.
As we finish the maypole celebration, we come back to an afternoon full of a lovely feast filled with traditional Midsummer foods. A typical Midsummer feast might look something like this:
Photo by Per Svangren
Photo by Per Svangren
Different kinds of herring, salmon, eel, smoked trout, and new potatoes with fresh dill. Everyone pulls out their pickle recipes, so we have jars, plates, and bowls of pickles. Swedish meatballs are made on the grill as well as our famous hotdogs. We enjoy many types of bread such rye, hard tack, and my mother’s little sandwich rolls. We also share hard boiled and deviled eggs, chocolate balls, strawberry cake, lemonade, and schnapps and homemade beer for the adults.
The singing continues as we toast and sing songs with each round of lemonade and schnapps. In Sweden, there are songs we sing and dance to around the pole, and then there are drinking songs, many of them.
As the afternoon winds down into the evening, dancing around the maypole continues with polkas, waltzes, hambos and other Scandinavian favorites.
As the sun descends a little bit, remember that the sun will only set for about an hour or two in the mid to southern part of Sweden and not at all in the northern part of Sweden. We head to the beach for a little bonfire, marshmallow roasting and s’more making. Here we bring different types of instruments, such as guitars and fiddles, to sing campfire songs and enjoy the longest day of the year. As my father would say, “It’s all down hill from here.” Meaning that now the days will become shorter as we head back towards winter.
We aren’t thinking much about going to bed; we can sleep in the winter. This is the summer season. As we head back to the house we pick a small bouquet of 7 different flowers to put under our pillows as we sleep. For those of us who are young, perhaps dreams of life’s future partner will find their way into our summer slumber. For the rest of us, sweet dreams of flower-ridden pastures, and the sounds of summer will be softly caught in a midsummer night’s dream.
Midsummer Strawberry Cake
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 cups of all purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cups of fat free sour cream
2 tsp of vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Butter the bottom of two 9-inch round pans or one 13 x9x 2 inch pan.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar for about 5 minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Mix together the dry ingredients of flour, baking powder, and salt. Set this aside. Combine egg whites, milk, and vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture then add the sour cream, half of the milk mixture. Alternate, beginning with and ending with the flour mixture.
Pour the batter into prepared pan(s) and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake cake(s) about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for about 5 to 10 minutes, and then turn the cake onto a rack. Let it cool completely before adding the whipped icing.
Whipped Cream Icing
1 1/4 cups of heavy whipping cream
1 lb of strawberries
Before whipping the cream add 2 tbsp of sugar or more to taste. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and whip the cream into peaks.
If you have used round pans you can take extra strawberries, sugar them and put them in-between the layers of the round cake. Frost cake and then place whole strawberries on top.
If you have used a rectangle pan, ice the cake and place sliced strawberries on top.
Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book, derives the greatest pleasure from taking the books she reads and helping them come alive with her family, book club, friends, and workshops. An advocate for literacy, Valarie spends many quality hours helping at risk readers. She spends her days with her husband, three creative children, and one adored cat. Together they live in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. You can also visit Valerie on her blog, A Place Like This.