Midsummer in Sweden is almost as important as Christmas for Swedes, and this is no coincidence because northern people, who live most of the year in the dark,
love the light and need it to survive, which has led to Swedes being more or less, sun addicts.
This tradition links back to ancient times when they celebrated the brightest day of the year, the summer solstice, usually the 20-21 of June; this year, it was on Friday the 19th of June. The Summer Solstice is an astronomical term regarding the sun’s position in relation to the celestial equator. The Summer Solstice is the date with the longest day and hence the shortest night. According to ancient beliefs, the veil between the spirit world and the physical world was thin, so connecting to the divine was more attainable. People performed rituals to make sure they pleased the gods and accessed their powers. Today the ancient reasons for this celebration have been forgotten and become a celebration of summer and vacation time.
Since about 300 AD, Midsummer became considered a Christian holiday, but its origin is ancient, dating back to before the Vikings, Pagans, Druids, even Egyptians, and Native Americans who are thought to be the first to honor the day.
Certain celebrations take place all over the northern hemisphere on the evening of the summer solstice. Bonfires, speeches, songs, and dancing is the most common and traditional. Folk traditions include making wreaths, the kindling of fires, the burning of corn dollies (human figure made from straw), and the adornment of fields, barns, and houses with greenery.
Midsummer was a time to make blessings to the God Baldur, the Norse god. Baldur, or Baldr, is Odin and Frigg’s son, his name most likely meant fire or white as he was believed to emanate light from his body as he was the God of sunshine. He was celebrated on Midsummer as his light was the most prevalent but also because Midsummer represented the change from the growing light to where the light would start disappearing back to darkness and winter again. The trinity of Odin, Frigg, and Baldur can be found in numerous ancient traditions and beliefs and has transferred into Christianity as the Son, the Father and the Holy Ghost. But originally, it was the story of the sun’s passage across the sky symbolizing the creation and life and death.
Today Swedes leave the city behind as they flock to the countryside to pick flowers and leaves to garnish the Maypole. Although the exact origin of the Maypole, or Majstång in Swedish, is unknown, it is theorized to be a fertility symbol from Germany that later merged with the Christian cross. “Maja” means to dress or decorate and cover the entire pole with leaves. After the pole has been erected people celebrate by dancing and singing around it. As the day goes on people play games and have an evening feast with drinks. Although many of the original magical rituals and ceremonies have long been forgotten, some remain, like picking seven different kinds of flowers to put under your pillow to make you dream of your future love. Flowers were considered to have a more potent power during the solstice. We would make garlands and put them on our heads (midsommarkrans) to empower ourselves with the plants’ magical powers and after we saved the flowers to put in the Christmas bath later in the year.
Water was also considered more potent during this time of year since it would absorb all the light. The ancient people believed water contained information, and hence it was revered as sacred, not only for physical survival but for spiritual awakening. The dew that accumulated during the summer solstice night was considered magical and potent, and it was encouraged to roll naked in it to stay healthy and strong. The dew was also collected to be used in bread making and beer making. The rituals were essential for survival since the ancients believed they had to sacrifice to the gods for good crops and fertility. Many of the rituals were about strength, fertility, and finding the right partner for mating. This is something that remains consistent today as many lovers take the opportunity to enjoy the midnight sun that doesn’t set, and there is usually a baby boom nine months later in March.
Midsummer is the high point of the year when nature is in full bloom and people were in good health, our ancestors had their crops planted and could rest or the Vikings could sail off to do battle in other lands. It is a time for action and risk, to reach outwards fearlessly. The sun’s progress throughout the year symbolizes the process of attaining enlightenment, and the summer solstice is the highlight of the journey. It is the time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. This was the second most important date next to the winter solstice celebrations, such as The Festival of Saturnalia in Rome and Yule for the Vikings in ancient times.
Many ancient people, such as the Druids and the Egyptians, would align their sacred sites to the summer solstice and conduct ceremonies on this day, e.g. Stonehenge and the sphinx head. When Christians arrived in the northern hemisphere, the already existing holiday merged with the celebration of the birth of martyr and Saint John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ, who Baptized him. Maybe because the water was so important during this time of year, when we trace back in history, we can find that all religions were founded on the belief of the sun passage across the sky and how vital the sun and water were to become reborn just like nature itself.
The Summer Solstice is the time to celebrate the light of consciousness within ourselves and the people around us and remind ourselves of the importance of awakening.