Flowers, showers and odd-looking frogs? Must be Swedish Midsummer.
‘I remember one year,’ said a dinner guest smugly, as we burrowed into blankets under the parasol one summer evening, ‘when it rained all week. Then suddenly the sun came out as we were erecting the Midsummer pole!’
We look at each other incredulously. Huh? That was flying in the face of tradition, to say the least.
‘Yep,’ her husband confirmed dreamily. ‘We had to start taking off our rain jackets and sweaters as it got hotter and hotter!
Seriously? We all know that’s not the way it goes.
Midsummer is one of the most cherished celebrations in Sweden. Ask any Swede and they can recall sweet juvenile memories of dancing around the Midsummer pole, skinny dipping in the lake, and long summer nights spent kissing on the jetty. Virgins came, virginities went. It’s the time of back-to-nature barefoot living in the land of the midnight sun.
Nature serves up a treat. The local fauna is at its lush summer peak and an abundance of wild flowers stand ready and waiting to be woven into pretty garlands by deft fingers. Blues and yellows match the flags flapping in the breeze, because Swedes are a patriotic bunch at heart. Flags are hoisted in the morning and lowered no later than 9 pm.
Food, as always, plays a central part in the celebrations. Magazines are filled with new variations of old recipes for the smörgåsbord: a buffet of herrings, salmon, cold cuts, meatballs, potatoes, eggs, crisp bread, bread, cheeses etc. All eaten alfresco around one elongated table with room for everyone. Swedish schnapps comes into its forte here, slugged down in perfectly timed unison as Swedish schnapps songs obligingly indicate where in the ditty the drink is to be downed. And there’s no such thing as a worthy outdoor celebration without singing and drinking at the table. At least one song. Usually a bevy. And becoming more off-key as the meal rolls on.
Sounds perfect? Sure does. And this is also the picture presented in the tourist books and in our mind’s eye when we prepare for the big day. But what these beautiful books don’t reveal, is the weather gods aversion to all things Midsummer and that the chances of us sitting in the sun enjoying a raw herring crisp bread with a garland in our hair is really quite remote.
Many a Midsummer meal has never made it past the doorpost. Numerous others have been interrupted by a sudden downpour that requires prompt action involving lifting a laden table back into the house. Once seated inside, the sun reappears and brings with it the dilemma of whether the party ought to stay put, or dry off the outdoor chairs and try again. There are only so many times in one meal that a table can be joyfully lifted in and out.
Once everyone is finally stuffed to the gills, however, it’s time to pack a picnic basket with cakes, buns and drinks. Hot coffee is highly recommended. As is a plastic-backed picnic blanket. Then it’s on with the rubber boots and off to the Midsummer pole. Which is not to be confused with a traditional May pole. Imagine instead a wooden cross that’s covered in foliage with a garland of flowers hanging either side from the horizontal bar, and erected in the middle of a large grassy area with plenty of space for ring dances. Now, dancing around said pole provides a good excuse for another sing-along. While some prefer to watch from their picnic spot in the grass, parents of tiny children and all other hearty souls willing to compromise their dignity form a circle. An appointed leader, often in national costume, ensures all the actions are understood before presiding over the repetitive songs and dances with enthusiastic aplomb.
The most famous Midsummer song of all is undoubtedly Small Frogs. The song and actions clearly show and explain how these odd-looking creatures have no ears and no tails, how they hop and how they ribbit. Anyone who has ever seen a large group of Swedes, wearing rubber boots and flowers, crouched into amphibian positions and ribbiting their way around a pole, will bear witness to the fact that a good time is always had by all. And particularly the spectacle’s spectators.
Because Midsummer is a time for family and friends. And as the old saying goes:
There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
And I’m inclined to agree.
Still, please keep your fingers crossed for Friday while I go and buy a new umbrella.