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Traditional spring festivities
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Midsummer is Scandinavia’s most popular seasonal festival after Christmas. A traditional celebration of the Summer solstice, Midsummer is the longest day of the year June In Sweden, Midsummer is even celebrated as a national holiday also see Scandinavian national holidays. Celebrating the Summer Solstice. The celebration of the Summer solstice is a very ancient practice, dating back to pre-Christian times.
The Scandinavian Midsummer traditions stem from pagan times, showing the defeat of darkness to the powers of the sun god. This was the midway point of the harvest season in agrarian times, and as such, it was considered important to try to affect good fortune and good luck on Midsummer, with much emphasis on warding off evil spirits and negativity. Traditional food for Midsummer in Scandinavia are potatoes with herring or smoked fish, fresh fruit, and probably some schnapps and beer for the adults.
In Sweden , where the festival is called “Midsommar”, houses are decorated inside and out with wreaths and flower garlands. Most people in Sweden celebrate the evening before, and on Midsummer’s day itself, many businesses are closed to allow workers to revel as they see fit. Swedes then dance around the decorated midsummer pole while listening to traditional folk songs known to all.
In Sweden, as in many other countries, the magic of Midsummer includes bonfires which reminds of Swedish Walpurgis Night traditions , and divining the future, especially the identity of one’s future spouse.
Playing Norwegian song ” We should not sleep away the summer night”. Midsummer Eve – this year June 22 – is probably the most popular festival day in Sweden, together with Christmas. Midsummer is an old pagan celebration, dating back to the Viking Era. It was a fertility rite originally, where the May pole was a phallic symbol, “impregnating” Mother nature.
It was hoped that this would help to give a good harvest in the autumn.
Midsummer Eve is a huge celebration in Finland. of cuckoos you hear is the equivalent of the number of years it takes for you to find your future husband.
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But the summer solstice, or Midsummer’s Eve, is one of the biggest and most the darkness of the winter months, a practice dating back to the 6th century AD.
Old Midsummer’s Eve fell on a later date one which Americans will certainly recognize , after the calendar change of The correction of the drifting of the calendar away from the astronomically fixed moments of the solstices and equinoxes was the very reason for the Gregorian reform so that the date of Easter could be reliably calculated by the Church.
However, many non-Catholic countries did not go along with this calendric change for years, so England did not adopt the modern Gregorian calendar until one hundred and seventy years later. With the old Julian calendar eleven days behind the new Gregorian calendar, it was necessary to drop the eleven days. In the reform in Britain, the old Julian calendar was eleven days off, which required the change made wherein the PM September 2, was followed by AM September 14, Thus, in Europe, the Feast of St John, commonly known as Midsummer Day , occupied much the same relationship with the solar cycle as Christmas Day; it represented the end of a solstice, the period in which the sun ceased to move for a short period, but rose and set at the same points on the horizon at the extreme end of its range.
Now, however, the sun was at the height of its strength, and light at its longest, and Midsummer Eve represented the culmination of that period of apogee, just before the days began to shorten again as the sun moved southward. According to the Christian liturgical calendar, the Nativity of St John the Baptist on June 24th comes three months after the celebration on March 25th of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel told Mother Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus.
The purpose of these festivals, like the pagan ones before them, was not to celebrate the exact dates of these events, but simply to commemorate them in an interlinking way. Thus, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist anticipates the feast of Christmas. All over Europe, St John’s Day festivities are closely associated with the ancient nature lore of the great summer festival of pre-Christian times.
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So it may seem peculiar that the Swedes also celebrate a holiday rooted in pagan rituals that predate Christianity. Celebrated on the Friday closest to the summer solstice 21st of June it has been a national holiday since the s and is a mix of new and old customs, including some that may seem strange to a foreign on-looker.
For Swedes however, it has become an opportunity to mark the start of summer with friends and family and to enjoy dancing, singing and silly games along with a feast of herring and snaps on a day when the sun hardly sets. Many think the day is connected to ancient fertility rituals that were believed to guarantee a successful harvest. Bonfires were often lit to ward off evil sprits and the darkness of the winter months, a practice dating back to the 6th century AD.
These bonfires are still lit in other Nordic countries who also mark the solstice, although the pagan elements of Midsummer have been blurred with the feast of St John the Baptist on the 24th of June. However, it is only really in Sweden where Midsummer has remained a major annual event, with uniquely Swedish features and many of the ethereal elements holding firm. It was also a night fortelling futures, for example, young girls would eat salted porridge and go to bed thirsty so that their future husbands could bring water to them in their dreams.
A tradition that remains is for young people, often children, to pick seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in order to dream of their future spouse. Many households also decorated their homes with branches and flowers.