When we think of the summer solstice, what comes to mind? The changing of the season? The longest day of the year? People dancing around a giant penis? Well, if you find yourself in late June in Sweden, that could very well be it.
It all goes back to the ancient Scandinavian god Freyr, a phallic deity representing fertility and love, who brought rain and abundance. There’s a sculpture in Sweden believed to be the god with an erect penis. This element is associated with masculinity and prosperity. Freyr is the keeper of peace, cornucopia, and mortal pleasure. He is a symbol of success and wealth.
In honor of this old god, Swedes have a particular day dedicated to love and fun. Shrouded under the guise of St. John’s Day or the Summer Solstice, the locals take part in a ritual to Freyr. This festivity is even more important than Christmas. Midsummer is the time when the people of Sweden celebrate in a big way and prove their hygge attitude towards life: to include a little bit of pleasure into the everyday, for fleeting as it may be.
The start of summer is celebrated in the country. Families and urban dwellers leave the city to come together on the longest day and shortest night of the year. This day to remember is full of music, dancing, food, and drink.
The ritual begins one day prior to St. John’s Day. People pick flowers to make garlands and wreaths to decorate the maypole with. This symbol is the central part of the celebration. This pole full of ribbons, plants, and flowers that are lifted in the air while doing traditional dances, including one called “The Little Frog Dance,” where children hop around it. Afterwards, there is a banquet full of native foods, such as fish, meatballs, and boiled potatoes with sour cream and chives. Strawberries served in a myriad of ways, including with vodka, are the main dessert.
Before nightfall, the women and young girls will be part of another tradition of Midsummer. After dinner and before everyone goes out to dance, they pick seven different kinds of flowers to place under their pillow at their camp or cabin. This because there is an old legend that claims that their future husbands will visit them in a dream.
All in all, this ancient tradition is a way to celebrate life, love, and community. It’s a return to nature and simpler times before the bustle of everyday urban life took over.
So, would you celebrate Midsummer with the Swedes?
Ancient Rome also had its fair share of seasonal celebrations. There was the one to celebrate Spring, hosted by courtesans, and the one for the Sun God which became Christmas.
Translated by María Suárez