It is one of the oldest traditions, originating about 1,500 years ago from pagan times. It is linked to the summer solstice and celebrated the defeat of darkness and power of the sun god.
Midsummer was also a fertility festival with many customs and rituals associated with nature and with the hope for a good harvest during the coming fall/autumn. One of the many traditions that has evolved over the years is that unmarried young women would pick seven different flowers and place them under their pillows to see their future husband in a dream.
As the Nordic countries were introduced to Christianity, the birth date of St. John the Baptist – June 24 – became the honored date of Midsummer. Traditionally, festivities take place around June 24 and the preceding evening. In Sweden, where Midsummer is a national holiday, it is observed on the Saturday between June 20 and 26.
For the past 20 years in Brookings, a group of Scandinavians have gathered at one of the member’s home to participate in a variety of activities and traditions. Originally the group was mostly native Scandinavians, and has now expanded to include second and third generation Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, and Finns. This year’s festivities included special guests from Olympia, Wash., and also some relatives visiting from Stockholm, Sweden: Pontus, Yun, Daniel, Caroline and Simon Sundquist.
The midsummer or May pole is the symbol for midsummer in Sweden and the costal areas of Finland. This year in Brookings, there were two midsummer poles: one about 6-feet tall covered with flowers and the other about 15-feet tall, covered with greens and long yellow and blue ribbons. The large pole was raised on the beach customarily a group effort, and the group of about 30 sung traditional songs and danced around it.
A Midsummer bonfire is a Danish and Norwegian tradition. It symbolizes getting rid of evil spirits and welcoming or making way for all good things to come. In Brookings, everyone sat around a large bonfire, singing traditional Nordic and American folk songs late in the night.
For Scandinavians, celebrating with others goes hand in hand with good holiday food. Traditional foods for Midsummer in Scandinavia are potatoes with herring, seafood, fresh fruit, and, of course, some songs and toasting with schnapps (Aquavit). This year, one of may delicious dishes was a “smorgastorte” (sandwich cake) with layers of shrimp, cream cheese, eggs, lox, and wheat bread. All in all, it was a wonderful evening filled with great company, excellent food, and rousing music.