I was incredibly lucky to have been welcomed by a group of local people whom I would like to to thank with all my drunken heart. Boys, Girls. Kalle, Erik, Linda, Anton, Kalle’s amazing girlfriend Annelie who was with him when…after he fell down the pit and almost broke his legs! Crazy viking Fredrik (I hope you get all those girls!)! Anton, beautiful Frida with a unicorn! Erik’s parents (thanks for not letting me starve!), Maria! You guys made all this all happen! You assured that instead of pictures I have memories! Thank you.
You can strip people off their valuable possessions, you can take away their religion but you can’t steal their traditions. This is what mid-summer is in Sweden – it is a tradition that survived in hearts and minds of the nation despite the change of religion and the way of living.
Engaging and wild, fuelled with the feeling that something great is about to happen – everything Christmas is for southern Europeans the Mid-Summer is for the Swedes!
Land somewhere around the Dala region on a Solstice and the first following Friday the magic will commence. Swedes running around doing last-minute shopping, emptying the booze shops, men brushing their barbecue sets, women chopping salads. This is the time for grown children to return to their family nest for a few days to celebrate, a chance to meet someone special in their life, an opportunity to meet your school mates and the chance to dance.
“Dance like no one is watching” is a popular teenagers’ quote and it is all wrong – dance like it’s Swedish mid-summer is much more like what the saying is supposed to mean! Boy, will they dance! But we’re jumping too far with the story because the Swedes are still shopping and yes, some shop with style.
These are two local ladies I later met at the pole raising ceremony. I hope they can excuse me for not having shown up at a restaurant they invited me to as a) its Sweedish name was well beyond my mind’s capability to remember unknown words at a time and b) I was deadly drunk by that point:)
The Midsummer Day
The day started with a morning swim in the Siljan lake after I barely got any sleep as drunken Swedes have been arriving in numbers to… have a wash at the lake, this has pretty much been happening all night and then all morning:) Although I really liked the tradition.
I stocked up on alcohol, took the photo of the girls above and headed for the party. The locals do it in style and in pretty much the same way you’d celebrate something like this elsewhere. Get drunk with friends and loved ones and have some fun before you head for the town.
Annelie was making (and finally made!) a flower headband, something that the girls of the past would have spend the entire morning with and it’s probably the most beautiful part of the tradition. We drank beer and Schnapps and guys sang a few tradition Swedish songs… you know the feeling of things being at their places when people start singing the songs of their ancestors? Amazing!
We played this game where you throw sticks at chops and… well, you get the point:) I almost got hit in my family jewels a few times,
I’d certainly call this a hazardous game, no wonder it still hasn’t made it in to the Olympics!
The above circle of events repeated a few times and when the bottle of Schnapps was empty we headed for the town. There on the Bridge the people were waiting for the boats. The boats were going to bring people with decorations for the Maypole.
I was really keen to stop and see but the locals… and alcohol called us to continue towards the main scene.
When we arrived, “goupen” – the midsummer Maypole erection pit which is you believe the legend was created by the fall of a meteorite was packed with people! In the middle there was a stage and the Maypole itself, bare and lying on the ground waiting… you guessed it, waiting for the boats to arrive.
There were songs sang and music played to which the procession showed up, they brought the decorations which were attached to the pole turning the pole into… a penis with two beautiful testicles! Here you go, a Scandinavian finger to a new religion of the North;)
But you could not see that yet, not until the Maypole was erected. We continued drinking.
Every now and again I could hear people applaude, I noticed that every time it happened the Maypole was up a notch more. I’ve noticed people holding it at the ends of pointy sticks! I don’t have a photo to show you that but believe me, it must have been hard work as the Maypole does not seem to have any holes to slot the sticks in to, I guess it truly is a collective effort of many people and if one slips the pole is still held by others!
Every five minutes or so they regroup and push the maypole a few degrees up!
When the Maypole is finally up you can stand up for the National Anthem and drink the final one before dancing commences and what kind of dancing that it! You hold hands and dance with everyone! Young and old, a boy or a girl – the whole village dances and celebrates the tip of the Summer – the time when days are seemingly eternal where you can meet the special someone and every miracle is possible.
Midsummer is so special here, it is the time when the world isn’t dominated by snow and cold, the time where you’re out in the sun at all times, the time for friends, the time to do all those things you wanted to do during winter but could not because you days were 40 minutes long! I believe I need to come back here in winter to fully appreciate the traditions behind midsummer!
When dancing was over it was time for the drunken Brownian motion:) You know when at 3am it is closing time and everyone is bouncing around looking for trouble? Well, I have been told about the Swedish drinking problems but I have not seen anything which would remind me of that of London or another big city, in comparison, Swedish countryside is relaxed and peaceful. Happily drunk is the way to call it. So Swedes, you don’t have a drinking problem, your cities are not big enough for that. If you wanna see drinking problems come to the UK…
When drunken Sweded were trying to make their way to their cars I saw an old Russian Volga! In the middle of Sweden! It used to belong to a famous USSR Hockey player.
The next day I was invited to participate in dancing. Have you seen a village dance floor? I have heard of that but I’ve never seen it for real. People come from neighbouring towns and villages and it is their time to dance and find a partner. I can imagine that this is where many people’s dads met their moms!
People come with kids, relatives to look after them, friends, siblings – this is proper dancing guys, whatever you do when you’re out in a club in NYC ain’t it, trust me.
You see, I believe clubbing industry in big cities serves no purpose but emptying people’s wallets. If people met their partner each time they went clubbing in Berlin the clubs would go bust and they don’t want that. So the industry fuels itself and drifts away from what I call dancing and the true pleasures of it.
No, you arrive to this village and you dance to your friend’s mate playing in a small band! He rocks the floor with American 50s covers and you show traditional Swedish moves. You cheer and ask him to play your favourite song! He plays it and you remember how you went to school together, your first dance at this very floor, maybe your first kiss, maybe your now-wife who was sitting in a corner wearing a beautiful flower band on her head, your shaking legs and fading voice when you asked her for a dance which you knew by heart but which was all of a sudden full of impossible moves!
When was the last time you invited a lady for a dance? Do we even do it these days? When I invited her for a dance I could feel that this is important… you know, a dance is not just a dance, you’re responsible for your decisions. You don’t invite someone you don’t like and she counts on you. It’s a big thing here!
I wish we could re-establish at least some of these principles in out new social norms… but I fear that these things will forever remain confined in small villages like this one in the middle of rural Sweden, they will be available for selected few who’ve not sold their souls to the devil of finance and the corporate world, those who believe that an invitation for a dance means something, those who prefer “a beer” to a “shaken… not stirred martini” and those who value relationships before us, people of big cities, even call them that.
Long live, Sweden and its midsummer traditions, I hope I will home back to immerse myself in this magic…. over and over again!
(June 25 2016)