I Was Just Thinking: ‘Midsommar’ celebration

Staff Writer
Dallas County News

Men, women and children – all wearing the traditional clothing of their ancestors – gather in the center of town, surrounded by thousands of people from all parts of the world.

Traditional music is played, traditional poetry recited and 20 men take positions on either side of a long pole lying on the ground. Carnival games are played at tents and tables all around the area.

It’s 10 o’clock at night, but the sun still shines.

What has brought these throngs of people together is a Swedish celebration called “Midsommar” – literally, midsummer. It’s held every year on June 21, the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, the day when the sun is farthest north in the Northern Hemisphere and when it’s highest in the sky.

Midsommar celebrations are held throughout Sweden, but the largest of them all is held in Leksand, a community of a few thousand on the southern tip of Lake Siljan, about 160 miles northwest of Stockholm in the Swedish province of Dalana.

Motels, hotels and hostels are full. Many of the rooms have been booked years in advance, and most are rented annually to the same people. Homes, too, are filled, some with family and others with travelers who were strangers until they arrived for the celebration. Most out-of-towners spend two or three days here. Restaurants and pubs sell more food and drink on this day than any other the rest of the year.

When you live nearer the Arctic Circle than the Equator, you celebrate the sun. Just as the sun shines for about 18 hours a day in the summer, it hides about 18 hours a day in the winter. Surprisingly, despite its northern location, Sweden (Norway, too) has a climate similar to that of Iowa, thanks to the Gulf Stream that brings warmer water and warmer air farther north in this part of the world.

Leksand has a natural amphitheater in the town’s center. Hillsides completely surround a somewhat square area. There every June 21st the celebration is held.

After a local poet’s poem is read, the men raise the pole a few feet. Then, a song is sung and the pole is raised another few feet. More prose is read, more music is played and the men continually raise the May pole, decorated in bright ribbons and flowers.

Although it is very long and made of solid wood, the pole is raised entirely by hand. Centuries of raising May poles on June 21 have made it a task handed down from one generation to the next.

Once it’s finally upright, revelers join hands and dance circles around the May pole. The celebration lasts for hours, long after the sun has finally disappeared from the western sky. Even then, with the sun below the horizon, folks celebrate; it’s never totally dark, but, rather, dusk has taken over until once again the sun rises in the east a few short hours later.

The pole stands for several days, the flowers die and, finally, the ribbons are removed, the pole lowered and removed. People return to their normal lives, having celebrated the longest day of the year.

In a few months, the northern sun moves south, days become shorter and what had been a long day of sunshine becomes a long day of darkness.

But, Midsommar will return again next June.