Midsummer’s Eve – Why It’s Sweden’s Second Most Popular Holiday

Swedes celebrate Midsummer’s Eve with picnics in the country. Photo Credit: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se.

Swedish Customs

Midsummer’s Eve takes place every year on a Friday near the end of June. It is related to the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Midsummer’s Eve is the second most important holiday on the Swedish calendar after Christmas, and it is easy to understand why.

In a country with long winters and short days most of the year, Midsummer’s Eve falls near the longest day of the year – the Summer Solstice.

Midsummer’s Eve is taken much more seriously than Swedish National Day, for example – if you can call people leaping around like frogs a serious activity!

There is a mass exodus from the cities to the country. Houses and barns are decorated with greenery. The usually reserved Swedes wear flowers in their hair.

Other activities associated with Midsummer’s Eve include dancing around a May Pole, tugs of war, sack races, extravagant picnic lunches, and singing silly songs before downing copious quantities of unsweetened, flavoured schnapps, the national tipple.

Picnic tables creak under the burden of mountainous piles of pickled herring (an acquired taste?), served with new potatoes, sour cream, and chives. Dill pickles will be in plentiful supply.

For dessert you can expect a generous slice of calorific strawberry cake!

Swedes decorate their houses and barns with greenery on Midsummer’s Eve. Photo Credit: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se.
Normally reserved Swedes wear flowers in their hair on Midsummer’s Eve. Photo Credit: Stefan Berg/imagebank.sweden.se.
Sack races and other games are popular activities on Midummer’s Eve. Photo Credit: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se.
Flowers are an important part of Midsummer’s festivities. Photo Credit: Tina Stafren/imagebank.sweden.se.
Picnic tables are laden high with picked herring, new potatoes, and dill pickles. Photo Credit: Tina Stafren/imagebank.sweden.se.
Copious quantities of schnapps are consumed during the Midsummer’s festivities. Photo Credit: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se.
For dessert you can expect a generous slice of calorific strawberry cake. Photo Credit: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se.
Sometimes the Midsummer’s festivities end in romance. Photo Credit: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se.

Midsummer’s Eve has its roots in pagan times, starting out as a fertility rite – the symbolic significance of dancing around a May Pole should be  obvious.

But why a May Pole – which is usually erected on May First – in late June? It probably has something to do with the Swedish climate.

Flowers start to bloom somewhat late in Sweden because of its northerly location. But when they do, they are intensely beautiful.

Midsummer’s Eve takes place on a Friday between 19 and 25 June. It coincides with St. John’s Eve, which is no coincidence: 24 June was a feast day of the Christian martyr St John the Baptist, and the celebrations began the night before.

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