After the country’s long dark winters, Midsummer is hugely celebrated, as its days are some of the lightest in the year. Midsummer is therefore particularly close to the hearts of many Swedes. Join me on a trip to Smögen in the Bohuslän region and experience how Midsummer is traditionally celebrated – plenty of singing, dancing around maypoles, girls with flowers in their hair, pickled herring with new potatoes and soured cream…as well as fresh strawberries and a great deal of schnapps!
Centuries ago, Swedes believed that Midsummer Eve was truly magical and that if you rolled in the dew naked, it would cure all your diseases! Girls were supposed to pick seven types of flowers and cross seven fences – all in complete silence – before placing the flowers underneath their pillow to dream about their future husband. Even today, there is something magical about Midsummer and many young girls still pick flowers, and cross fences, in the hope of dreaming of the man they will marry.
Herring lunch with lovely company
Midsummer should be celebrated in the company of close friends, and this is exactly what I did. We hired a cottage near the sea, in the picturesque fishing village of Smögen. Smögen is a popular tourist destination in Bohuslän – especially at Midsummer!
My friends and I began our Midsummer celebrations by making wreaths of flowers and birch leaves, before laying a long table on the open balcony, from where we had amazing views over the inlet to Smögen’s harbour, pier and boathouses.
The lunch was ‘All in!’ and included all the traditional components: seven varieties of herring, quiche, salmon, egg and anchovy salad, meatballs…and obviously ice-cold schnapps. The drinking songs came thick and fast, and the schnapps went down with some reluctance! I am not a great fan of schnapps, but it has been an important part of Swedish Midsummer celebrations for many, many years.
Dancing around the Midsummer maypole
After lunch, we walked down to the seaside park, where the traditional Midsummer maypole dancing was just about to start. The park was full of people of all ages – girls in pretty summer dresses with flowers in their hair, teenage boys, families with children, and elderly groups of people who had followed the Midsummer traditions for years. All the classic Midsummer songs were played: Små grodorna (Little frogs), Mosters lilla kråka (Auntie’s little crow), Sju vackra flickor i en ring (Seven pretty girls in a ring) and we finished, as always, with the ‘Rocket’.
After lots of singing and dancing, we returned to our balcony to enjoy coffee and strawberry gateau. My boyfriend, Niklas, had baked a heavenly strawberry gateau with vanilla custard, cream and Swedish strawberries. Mmm – it was so delicious! Swedish strawberries are at their best around Midsummer – sweet, juicy and flavoursome. To me, strawberries symbolise childhood memories from our kitchen garden, where my brother and I used to pick and eat strawberries before dinner – our mum was not impressed!
Midsummer games and BBQ
Traditional games include sack races, ‘pen in the bottle’, tug-of-war and ‘kubb’. The aim of Kubb is to throw sticks at your opponent’s wooden blocks, trying to knock them over…you become ‘King’ if you succeed! I’m convinced all Swedes are born with a competitive streak. No-one wants to admit to being a bad loser, although everyone really wants to win, making sure that the points are calculated correctly…preferably several times over. We played kubb and naturally (!) the girls beat the boys.
In the evening, we had a BBQ and cooked different types of meat, rinsing them down with various types of cold drinks, whilst enjoying the sunset. It was a beautiful summer evening with a warm, salty breeze and a calm sea. We had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure we weren’t in the midst of a Midsummer night’s dream.
It’s amazing to be able to live this close to the sea and to have the opportunity to experience this lovely natural landscape, right on our doorstep – what luxury! Smögen definitely impressed us this Midsummer Eve.
On Midsummer Day, we walked along the Smögen Pier, browsing the many shops housed in the charming boathouses. The pier was full of people in summery clothes, enjoying the warm sunshine. We had a huge prawn sandwich on the quay and a cup of coffee in the sun (Swedes love drinking coffee together, at least twice a day, preferably more…)
Some of my friends had never been to Smögen before and fell head over heels in love with this charming little village! In the car home, we decided that Smögen will be ‘our’ Midsummer place. We have already booked the cottage for next year.
Text & illustration: Emelie Persson