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Midsummer, Vaxholm 2011 | Bengt Nyman/Flickr
Midsummer, Vaxholm 2011 | Bengt Nyman/Flickr

A Brief History Of Sweden's Midsummer Festival

Picture of Johanna Stapelberg
Updated: 9 February 2017
Midsummer is considered to be the second largest festival celebrated in Sweden. The event is quite unique and the timing could not be more perfect – as it’s typically hosted during the summer solstice; symbolically closing a chapter on the very long and dark winter months and welcoming the bright days of summer. We take a look at how Midsummer became a popular celebration among Swedes and why it’s a must-see for newcomers to the country.  

Historic festival

Midsummer was traditionally celebrated on June 24th, but due to the ever-changing day, the Swedes decided to change the date so that it would be reserved as a weekend celebration. Today, Midsummer is mainly held on a Friday between June 19th and 26th. But what is the significance of June 24th? June 24th is the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, born six months before Jesus; meaning the festival’s roots fall within a pre-Christian solstice festival.

While other countries do celebrate Midsummer, the Swedes tend to place Midsummer as a prominent festival during the year, complete with its own cultural spin. For the Swedes, the focus of Midsummer is the Maypole, or in Swedish Midsommarstång, which is often decorated with greenery and flowers and placed within a prominent space in the town hosting the celebration.

The significance of the Swedish version of the Midsummer festival is central to the country’s cultural traditions. Traditionally held on the lightest day of the year, the festival serves as a joyous occasion to take part in activities alongside the community, complete with traditional food, drinks and games. The celebration itself is also associated with Swedish folklore, with legendary fables, stories and practices detailing the magic of Midsummer’s eve.

Midsummer events

The day starts off at noon by gathering friends and family in the nearest park or in the archipelago to enjoy a small picnic. The maypole is raised in the middle of the park and the trick here is to not let the it fall the first time, as it means bad luck for the rest of the year. After the pole is up, the tradition is to dance around the pole, and the community may organize the first dance with people wearing traditional clothes leading a choreographed performance; then everyone is invited to join in together!

Later in the afternoon, it’s time for a long lunch. This special day has of course its own Swedish specialties when it comes to the cuisine! Typical Swedish dishes include marinated salmon with dill potatoes and chives or sour cream and/or toast skagen, a toast with prawns or shrimps. The drinks are also very special and the most important part to remember is the schnapps. Schnapps are a special drink that is often introduced with a song around the table.

When the evening enters, most people celebrate with drinks outside if the weather allows it and the night does not end until the next morning. But not to forget one of the most important traditions, especially for the younger children, is to collect seven different flowers and put them under their pillow so they can dream about the love of their life. Just one of the many legendary folklore stories that originate from Midsummers of the past.

Where to celebrate Midsummer in Sweden

Midsummer itself is a special festival for Swedes as it not only brings communities together, but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate with newcomers and tourists too. For those touring Sweden and are looking to partake in the Midsummer celebrations, the most recommended option is to go to the countryside where the real traditional Midsummer celebrations are taking place. One could visit the central part of Sweden, known as Dalarna – where there is the opportunity to see spectacular landscapes in the different towns, such as Leksand or Mora.

But one does not need to leave the city, as there are other options and places worth visiting during this day. In Stockholm, an open-air museum for wild animals called Skansen hosts one of the city’s largest celebrations; something that is a must-see when visiting the capital! Another option in Stockholm is the Vitakbergsparken, which is a popular choice for those that prefer the smaller part of the city.

Regardless if individuals find themselves inside or outside the city, one thing is for sure – partaking in Midsummer celebrations is a incredible entryway to experiencing Swedish culture and traditions.