Going to a Midsummer party with some Swedes? You will be asked to dance, like a frog. You may also be asked to sing songs in Swedish. This is very easy once you have had some aquavit (it makes you fluent) – but to begin with, it can be tricky. Here are a few of the easier songs to get you started – and there is even one in phonetics.
The longest day of the year is very important to us Northern people. We have light! And not only that, we have so much of it we hardly see dark and we get to make up for all of those months of candle lit cosiness and snow.
We all celebrate the day slightly differently, so here are a few facts to get you started in the preparations.
Sweden treats Midsummer like it’s national day. Actually, Sweden’s national day is a few weeks earlier, but everybody celebrates Midsummer instead. It’s always celebrated on the closest Friday (this year, 23rd June) and it’s a public holiday.
In London, it’s celebrated on the Saturday because we need to not be at work when we do it.
St John’s Eve In Denmark and Norway, the evening is celebrated on the actual day (23rd June, no matter if it’s a Friday or not) and there, it’s called more St John’s Eve as well as Midsommer Aften.
Sweden and Finland celebrate with Midsummer poles. These are a bit like May Poles, except it’s not May and ours have a lot of fertility symbols associated with them. The Midsummer poles are covered in flowers and greenery. Everybody wears flower garlands in their hair and very summery clothes. Some people try the yellow/blue flag combo for clothes, but it is rarely a good look.
Danes burn witches on Midsummer eve. Much like the British burn Guy Forkes, the Danes like to burn witches on this evening and send them off to Blue Mountain in Germany to dance with the devil. All while the (usually stuffed hay effigy) witches are burning on the bonfire, Danes sing songs about how much they love Denmark (usually a lone guy on a guitar will lead the singing – he always sings with his eyes closed and is very serious).
It’s still all about food. For the Swedes, it is all about the day long picnic and being outside. Meatballs are featured and it is high season for Sandwich cakes, too. The Danes tend to celebrate in the evening with dinner at home, but spend the evening trying to bake stick bread on the embers of the bon fire (it never works).
What about the little frogs? The Swedes, at every given opportunity but none more so than Midsummer, will sing songs about little frogs with no ears and no tails, whilst jumping around the Midsummer pole. Old, young, everyone. It’s a thing and it looks odd – but it is super fun. Do join in.
Swedes pick seven wild flowers on Midsummer eve and put them under their pillow. They will dream of the person they will marry. Some don’t even wait that long, as the birth rate spikes in Sweden every year exactly nine months after Midsummer.
There are Midsummer events held all over the UK – both Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian. Local churches are a good place to start for information on where to go.
There is no big official London picnic (there never is – it’s all a bit spontaneous) but people tend to gather in patches in the different parks and just bring a picnic. Ask local Scandies for details or just wander around and look for the people with flowers in their hair. You’ll find them.
Midsummer in Norway – Celebrating St. Hans (St. John’s)
Midsummer is usually not called midsummer in Norway, but St. Hans after the evangelist John (called Johannes in Norwegian; Hans is the shortened form). Originally two separate celebrations, they have now – for most people – merged into one.
St. Hans day is the 24th of June every year, and the celebrations are held on St. Hans’ eve – the 23rd. It is not a national holiday – but most people mark it in some way or another. Traditionally celebrated with a huge bonfire, or out on the fjord if you’re lucky enough to have a boat or know someone who does.
Bonfires are set up in many neighbourhoods, and is usually accompanied by a barbecue feast and beers – hot dogs in lompe, with ketchup, mustard and crispy onions.
Ice cream for afters (often, the inaccurately named Kroneis (Norway’s cornetto – name translated to 10p-ice cream, but it costs the equivalent to £2).
A typical St. Hans celebrations often includes playing games – here are some of our favourites:
Egg-racing; race each other whilst balancing an egg on a spoon held in your mouth (hardboiling the egg beforehand makes it easier – but it’s more fun when you risk it with a raw one!)
Helmet and protective glasses optional.
Sack-race, individual and in relay teams – Racing each other by attempting to jump a (straight) distance in sacks. Also popular on 17. mai;
A LOT harder than it looks. Face-plant almost guaranteed.
Three-legged race – We’re not sure exactly how popular this is (outside yours truly’s childhood neighbourhood) – but nevertheless super fun. Rules: Find a partner. Tie your right leg to their left leg (or the other way around) so you have to move as if you were one person with three legs. Confused? Good. Race against others with the same set-up. It is fun, we promise.
Swedes all over Love midsummer (you might have seen Alicia Vikander on Jimmy Fallon..? If not, we’ve included the clip for you below). There are many ways to celebrate, and this week, our Thérèse shares her way of celebrating. Over to you, T!
” Hej! I am Thérèse and I’m located in Stockhome. I recently moved to London from Sweden. It doesn’t matter where I am this time of year – I always celebrate midsummer.
Photo credit: Conny Fridh/imagebank.sweden.se
Midsummer for me is all about having fun, celebrating with friends and eat a lot of food. I often celebrate the holiday on the actual midsummer eve (this year – 24th June) ‘midsommarafton’ – but it really depends on when my friends are free to celebrate.
Growing up I spent most of my summers in the summerhouse in the west of Sweden, and we would usually go to the closest local midsummer event to celebrate there. These days the place of the celebration varies – either in a park or at someone’s house – usually the friend with the best garden. One thing remains the same wherever though – flower garlands in my hair. It’s essential.
What do we eat at midsummer?
Food is of course very important during midsummer. My friends and I often prepare a buffet together. We cook most of the food ourselves but we usually buy some things, like nibbles, ready made. That way we can nibble whilst we cook and take our time with it. We usually get snacks like sour cream and onion crisps, dill crisps, cheese corn snacks and some beer to drink.
The buffet has certain ‘rules’ to it – the first round is all about herring and bread. Having a good range of herring is essential. My favourites have always been the mustard herring, onion herring and the herring in roe, but a good midsummer spread usually includes even more – such as dill herring or herring in curry (You can browse our range of herring here).
We also have a variety of crispbread, rye bread and polar bread – as well as new potatoes boiled in a lot of dill. We eat the potatoes sliced up on your bread of choice with a bit of herring. With this we also serve cured or smoked salmon; seafood salad is also always included in our buffet. I like to top my salmon sandwiches with dill and mustard sauce.
In addition to the herring and fish, we often have a barbecue with different meats, spicy sausages and new-potato salad and chips with Vasterbotten cheese – lovely with a fresh dip! To drink we have lagers (beer) and aquavit. Of course, in true Swedish fashion, we have to sing some drinking songs.
Finally we’ll have a lovely strawberry cake (we have a nice recipe – click through to view) and perhaps some of our favourite sweets and chocolates. If we feel really merry we might search for a midsummer pole to do some embarrassing little frog dancing around.”
Don’t know what Frog Dancing is? Have a look below, where the Oscar winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander shows Jimmy Fallon how it’s done. Happy Midsummer all!
Are you Swedish, or just a big fan of all things yellow and blue (this includes meatballs, herring and aquavit)? Then you might just want to win yourself our huge midsummer spread bundle!
Whether you plan on heading to the park, your balcony or snuggle up in the sofa – this bundle contains everything you need for a lovely Swedish midsummer; Our favourite sourdough crispbread, meatballs, herring, salmon, vasterbotten cheese, our own deli salads, a bottle aquavit and some yummy cinnamon buns (kanelgifflar) to round it all off. Yum!
To be in with a chance of winning, simply answer this super easy question:
How many flowers do you put under your pillow to dream about your future husband/wife?
A. 3 B. 10 C. 7
Send your answer by email to firstname.lastname@example.org before Tuesday 14th June 2016 at midday. Winner will be drawn from all correct entries.Send your answer by email to email@example.com before Tuesday 14th June 2016 at midday. Winner will be drawn from all correct entries.
The usual rules apply. UK residents only. No cheating. Only one winner. No alternative prize and no cash alternative. Over 18s only as this contains alcohol.
Midsummer in Scandinavia. Think clear blue lakes, rolling green hills and lots of people running around barefoot, singing and dancing. Here’s our little guide about how to be more like a Swede at Midsummer…
Midsummer is the longest day of the year. Swedes (and Finns) celebrate it on the Friday that is closest to actual solstice. This year, Midsummer in Sweden is 19th June, but any Swede abroad will celebrate it on 20th because that is a Saturday, so this is much more convenient.
Most people think this is Swedish Midsummer…
Okay, so this is actually a bit true….
Midsummer is almost as big as Christmas and Eurovision. We take it very seriously. So, if you are planning on joining in, you need to know the basics.
You need nature. Midsummer is not an indoor celebration. It’s not possible to be authentic celebrating midsummer in a Hackney bedsit. Head to a park near you if you are in the city – such as Hyde Park (like a calling, Swedes randomly seem to gather there most years, although it is not an organised event).
The Midsummer Pole (Midsommarstången)
Get a few wooden poles, put them in a cross, add two round balls and decorate with flowers. Yes, we know, it is an upside down willy. It is a big fertility ritual, really. Erect your pole in the grass.
It’s basically a Maypole, but we don’t have enough flowers to decorate it in May, so we wait until June.
Dance like a frog
All Swedes know that the most natural thing in the world is to dance around the big phallic pole, pretending to be a little frog with no ear and no tail. Everybody joins in – old, young, drunk. Get the song here.
The food: Herring
Pack a picnic or make a buffet of the most delicious Scandi traditional foods.
Eating herring is essential. For midsummer, the delicious Matjes herring is the way forward. If anyone offers you something called Surströmming, tell them to go where the sun doesn’t shine: It is fermented herring and it smells like gone-off dog poo (tastes okay, though). A word of advice: If you are going to go down the Surströmming route, be very careful not to get any of the brine on your clothes as your chances of finding mate for the evening will be reduced to below zero. Also, the tin is pressurised, so when you open it, the brine will squirt out. Just say no. If you don’t believe us, watch this clip with our Jonas opening surstromming in Hyde Park.
The food: Strawberries.
You will need to include some strawberries in your picnic, as required by Swedish law (we think). Make a strawberry cake (Recipe here) or just bring a kilos along to share out. Rub yourself with strawberries to increase your overall appeal (this is not a proven method, but it might work, who knows).
The food: Dill
The secret to making any dish ‘traditionally Swedish’: Just add dill.
Add to potatoes, add to salads, add to crisps and sandwiches. Just add dill. Then add a bit more. You can never have quite enough dill on things. No, you can’t smoke it.
Guarenteed to rain. Then it will be sunny after. Every time.
Swedes at Midsummer will be consuming a lot of aquavit. It’s a strong alcohol made from grain and flavoured with dill, aniseed and caraway. We drink it in ice cold shots (nubbar), one after the other roughly 1 shot for every 2 beers consumed.
A few things to note: 1) It gets you drunk from the waist down first (i.e. no walking) and 2) It puts you in a slightly amorous mood. Fact: The birth rate in Sweden spikes nine months after Midsummer every year.
Someone will try to offer you the aquavit shot made from wormwood (it’s the one called Bäska Droppar) – they do this because they don’t want to drink it themselves its horrible) and it is really funny to see non-Swedes try it. Polite refuse and say you know what they’re up to.
Ladies tend to wear white dresses or very flowery frocks. A bit like a Laura Ashley showroom, but worn by really pretty people who look like goddesses sent from a different planet to save humanity. Or something.
Men tend to wear what they normally wear to look very Swedish: tight light-coloured trousers, pointy shoes, gelled slicked back hair, a pink shirt and maybe a crown of flowers. Sunglasses essential.
Some people wear traditional dress. If you are not Swedish, it will just make you look like a bit of a twig, so don’t go there. And whatever you do, please, no blue-yellow clothes combos. Bring flags instead. As many as you can carry (this will make you everybody’s best friend).
There are many, many different drinking songs to learn, but if you make an effort and learn ‘Helan Går’, you’ll be the Måns Zelmerlov hero of the night. Don’t worry too much if you don’t get around to learning it, most people are automatically fluent in Swedish after 2 shots of aquavit. If you overdo the aquavit, you may end up sounding Danish. don’t worry, this is not a bad thing, the Swedes will assume you brought cheap beer and will possibly try to befriend you.
Games people play
Don’t be surprised if you are invited to take part in a tug-of-war, egg and spoon race or a game of ‘kubb’. Kubb is a Swedish game involving some wooden sticks and some very drunk men falling about laughing. As far as we can tell, there are no rules (except the ones the drunk Swedes make up on the day).
Flowers in your hair
This applies to everybody. We all do it. Old, young, man, woman – get some flowers in your hair. Kudos if you make your own garland, but you can get hold of cheapie artificial ones at most H&M shops. Flower garlands look especially good on bald, middle aged men.
Legend says that if you pick seven different wild flowers and put them under your pillow at night, you will dream of the person you will marry. This makes the Tinder-swiping a lot easier going forward if you already know what he or she looks like.
It’s yours to deal with, all alone. Enjoy. Hurdy Gurdy.
We are selling out ready to pick up Swedish picnic boxes – booking taken up until 3 days before the event, so just click HERE to order. A box for 4 people costs just £50 (£12.50 per person).