While the annual holiday of Midsummer typically brings to mind flower crowns and smorgasbords of perfectly-arranged picnic food, we’ve dug up some archive photographs from the Midsummers of yore, where the grainy black & white filters and old fashioned 19th century dress suddenly bring a distinctly more ‘culty’ vibe to the whole affair….
The ancient holiday is deeply rooted in Christian religion and pagan tradition, celebrated in Northern Europe every year around the summer solstice when the days never go fully dark in the region. Long and cold winters make sure that the anticipation for this summer holiday even rivals Christmas celebrations.
Originally, when Vikings ruled the lands, Midsummer was a fertility rite. The symbolism of the maypole has been continuously debated by folklorists for centuries. One theory holds that they were a remnant of the Germanic reverence for sacred trees, while non-Germanic people have viewed them as having phallic symbolism alluding to the fertilisation of mother nature. When the Catholic Church came to power, June 24th was the day to celebrate St. John, the saint who preached in support of Jesus. Flower wreaths, now worn as decoration, were hung on doors to honour the saint. Thus the two merged into what is still celebrated as Midsummer throughout Scandanavia and Europe.
This night was believed to have certain powers that could heal sickness and all kinds of wounds too. A girl could dream of her lover if she picked seven different flowers and placed them under her pillow overnight. Birches in front of the door would bring happiness as well.
Dancing around the Maypole is still a big part of the tradition, so too is the belief that a nocturnal elf will come and join the party.
The feast also serves the freshest produce you can possibly imagine. Pickled herring, the first potatoes of the season, sour cream and crisp bread watered down with snaps (vodka) and beer are a must. Swedish strawberries are a mandatory dessert too.
Midsummer is a time for Scandanavians to leave cities for the countrysides, dance in the fresh air, enjoy family and eat the youngest harvest of the year. Garden parties, boiled potatoes, strawberries, flower crowns and dancing until sunrise? Count me in!
For what it’s worth, it looks like we’re not the only ones who thought something a little unsettling looks like its brewing around the maypole. Check out the trailer for the upcoming horror film inspired by the festival, Midsommar: