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Midsummer Celebrations in Sweden

When summers are short and winters dark, it is very important to celebrate what warm weather and sun you get. That’s what Midsummer in Sweden is about. This year, we had the pleasure of attending our first midsummer celebration with the Swedish family our friend Alyssa lived with during a study aboard program. This was our first time traveling to Sweden, but Dan & I have heard a lot about the country over the years so we were excited to see Alyssa’s adopted home away from home in person.

When we got there, the Swedish countryside was beautiful. We celebrated Midsummer in Eskilstuna, which has low rolling hills, huge skies, and lots of wide open spaces. The home we stayed at was on a large lake.

We celebrated Midsummer on Friday night was a big dinner, beer, and schnapps. In addition to our hosts, several of their friends, and Keith and Alyssa were there. Dinner was served in courses, including cheese and flat breads, herring, new potatoes, fish, and strawberries for dessert. It was the first time I’ve had herring (I haven’t tried it Dutch style yet), and I really enjoyed it. It has been prepared two different ways and there was also a smoke salmon dish that was quite tasty.

The schnapps was accompanied by several drinking songs, in Swedish of course. We stumbled our way through as best we could.

As dark as it got
By 2 am, the sky was as dark as it was going to get and I couldn’t stay awake any longer. We said our good nights and went to sleep.

Saturday is the official day of Midsummer and it is traditionally celebrated with a maypole and dancing (but not until mid-day so everyone can get plenty of rest). We drove out into the country to see just such an event and eat sausages for lunch. Several children, and a few adults, were dressed in the local traditional dress. It is common to dress up during Midsummer and a true set of regional or national Dress can be a family heirloom.

The dancing was fun to watch, even though we didn’t understand the songs being sung. The dancers generally danced in several linked circles. One dance involved hopping about like frogs, which was funny.

For the sake of archaeological interest, we also visited the Ramsund stone which marked an ancient bridge. It was created as a memorial and bridge mark, and also tells the Norse legend of Sigurd.

Unfortunately, by dinnertime our celebrations from the night before (and the very strong Swedish coffee) had caught up with me, and I missed dinner the second night of our visit. Dan tells me it was delicious.

To our friends and our hosts, thank you so much for sharing this celebration with us. It was a wonderful experience.

Click Here for Photos

Stockholm Notes
Before & after the Midsummer Celebration in Eskilstuna we had time to check out a handful of things in Stockholm. It was a nice city (very attractive), but while it definately had a bay, I wouldn’t call it the “Venice of the North”. Stockholm can complain to me if they like. You can see all the Stockholm photos here or you can click the thumbnails below for slideshows.

Vasa Museum: The Vasa museum encloses its namesake, a 17th century ship that sunk on its maiden voyage. The king of the day, Gustavus Adolphus, demanded that an extra deck of guns be added, which unstabilized the ship. Then the Captain sailed her with open gun ports; making it easier for the wind to swamp them. The ship sunk into the brackish muck, preserving 95% of its structure.

Really, this is a museum you need to see to believe. My camera wasn’t able to handle the lighting, so unfortunately many of my photos were awful and the remainders dark. In addition to the ship, the museum discusses the preservation and conservation of the large structure. I was impressed to learn that the entire thing is actually filled with PEG, a wax-like substance that replaced the water in the wood’s cells. Contamination from reusing the PEG and simple exposure to visitors is actually slowly shrinking the ship, so this is one archaeological find you should probably see sooner rather than later.

Archipelago: The coast of Stockholm is filled with thousands of islands of all shapes and sizes. The definition of “island” is pretty loose, so some are just rocks with a couple of trees. The rest had cute little houses or villages on them. These islands, in addition to island forts, have protected Stockholm from invasion several times.

We took a dinner tour of the Archipelago with Keith & Alyssa. The food was decent (a little pricier than we would have gone otherwise, but you only live once) and the ride both lovely and relaxing. We took Princess I, although I’ve forgotten the tour company. The Princess ships are faster than the other types; making it a preferable ship to see as much as possible. It is also used as a ferry by the people who live on the islands and we made several pick-ups along the way.

Historiska Museet: Our hostel had an advertisement for the Viking Exhibit at the Historical Museum and we like vikings, so we hunted it down the morning before our flight back to Amsterdam. Inside, the Viking exhibit was interesting, but very dark. I also found the English language audio guide to be a little condescending, as if it was saying “look, pretty things” rather than actually trying to tell me the story of the artifacts. I expect this is related to me being unable to interact fully with the exhibits because I don’t know Swedish.

While we were there, we also visited the Gold Room. No bags inside. No cameras. The room is built like a vault. The audio tour was better in here and the gold items inside varied and interesting.

Skansen: We made a short visit to Skansen, an open-air museum in the middle of Stockholm intend to show life in Sweden “back then”. We checked out various houses dating from 15th-18th centuries, farm animals, and the zoo. The bears were just waking up when we came by and the cubs were adorable. Apparently the bears are very popular (bears were the first animal in the zoo when it opened) and have new cubs every year.

Skansen is also on a fairly large hill and the view of Stockholm is one of the best I’d seen. I would have liked more time, but it is a large museum and probably would take a day to cover.

Home Again
We can home again on Monday via Hamburg and Amsterdam. Alyssa told us that Sweden is a popular destination for Germans on holiday. I can see why. Some day, I’d like to go back to hike and camp.

2 Responses to “Midsummer Celebrations in Sweden”

  1. Alyssa says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time in Sweden and certainly you can say that you’ve done something few other American tourists have done—have Midsommar with a real, live bunch of Swedes! As you can see, the Swedes are a very warm people with visitors, especially if you speak the language.

    I hope that the short time you were there gave you a decent blend of what could be seen between the capital city and the nature of the rest of the country. The nature in Sweden is actually quite varied between provinces–much like the Netherlands in the South with lots of fields, hillier where you were, mountainous/hilly-er yet where we went after you guys departed, and mountains and tundra in the far north. Archipeligo with endless islands into the Baltic… It is great to me because of this extraordinary blend of cultural items (world-class museums, castles, villages, runes) and the absolutely beautiful nature found there make it an ideal vacation spot for people like Keith and I who like a blend of both in our ideal vacation.

    Perhaps your camping trip will take place sometime when we are there ourselves, although our next trip is a wintertime one, to Kiruna and the Ice Hotel, or bust!!!

  2. Alyssa says:

    I should send you the pics I took of the Midsommar night sky on Lake Mälaren before and after midnight, Swedish time, on Saturday, June 27th. It will give you a sense of what the sky looks like since it actually *isn’t* that dark at any point in the summer night sky.