Tomten 2020

Maypole Traditions in Sweden during Midsommar dagen Midsummer Day
Summer in Sweden is short.  During the month of June the Swedish landscape is lush and green, beckoning the summer season.  The word midsommar to a Swede holds joy and visions of sunny meadows, shimmering waters, music from an accordion or fiddle, and dancing around the majstång (maypole).

In agrarian times summertime was welcomed as it was the season of fertility.  It was a celebration of sommarsolståndet or the summer solstice, when the day is longer than any other day of the year, and the night shorter.  In the christian tradition, Midsummer commemorates John the Baptist's birth on June 24 or the Feast of St. John.  Since the 1950s Midsummer's Day in Sweden is celebrated on a Saturday.  Midsummer festivals have become the most Swedish of all traditional festivities.

Midsummer's Eve was also believed to be a magical night, full of powerful magic and a time for love.  People liked to visit holy springs to bathe and drink the water and amuse themselves with games and dancing.  These visits were a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the river Jordan.  Young people ate salted porridge or dream porridge to help them dream of their future spouses.  They also gathered 7-9 different species of flowers to put under their pillows and hoped to dream of their future soulmates.  It was said that on this night water was turned into wine and ferns into flowers.  Many plants acquired healing powers on this night.  You could also find treasure by studying how moon beams fell on Midsummer's Eve.  During the early hours of Midsummers Day, folks would drag their sheets in the morning dew.  The dew was believed to have special healing properties and was incorporated into their food, their household, and even their livestock to promote good health for the coming year.

The maypole or midsummer pole symbolizes both the male and the female.  In pagan times, people dressed up as green men clad in ferns.  They also decorated their houses, farm, and tools with foilage in addition to raising leafy maypoles.  The word maj as used in majstång has nothing to do with the month of May but is derived from the old Swedish word of maja meaning to adorn with leaves or deck with branches.  Apparently this practice was imported from Germany to Sweden sometime during the late middle ages.

Many Swedish towns and villages (especially famous in the province of Dalarna, known for their colorful folk costumes) decorate a maypole which is proudly displayed in the town square.  The maypole/midsummerpole is a tall cross clad with leaves and flowers.  It is decorated early in the day by people in the community usually with birch branches, leaves and flowers.  Hand made flower wreaths and ribbons are added to the leafy pole.  Then in the afternoon the maypole is raised in the center of the village square or in a field.  Everyone then gathers around the maypole to begin the dances.  There are usually games and competitions with the children, ring dances and traditional dancing and singing games.  Later in the evening there may be a dance at an outdoor pavilion for the adults and the nocturnal brightness is enjoyed well into the night.  The light can be described as twilight all night long, however farther north in Sweden it is the land of the midnight sun during the summer solstice.  Flowered head wreaths or blomsterkrans are also worn by individuals during midsummer festivities.  In the old folk traditions, people bound a midsummer head-wreath of local wildflowers and wore it on Midsummers Eve and day.  The flower wreaths would then be saved for the future.  If someone got sick, you could simply burn the head-wreath and bask in the smoke, evoking powerful magic to promote healing.  You could also place the Midsummer head-wreath in your Christmas bath to revive your winter weary body.

Today in Sweden (and in other countries), families gather together to celebrate with tradtional Swedish foods like pickled herring, boiled potatoes with fresh dill, sourcream with chopped chives, bread, cheese, and a dessert of garden fresh strawberries.  Beverages are beer and schnapps.  Swedish people might travel away from the city to their summer cottages to celebrate Midsommar out nearer to nature, away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives in the bigger towns or cities.

Please enjoy the Swedish Midsummer and Geneva Swedish Days in 2021!  Please come in and shop, and say hi to all of us at The Gift Box!



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