This weekend was Midsummer-- a big national holiday here in Sweden, and the first time I've been in the country for it!
I went along with my friends Teri-Anne (Singaporean) and Anders (Swedish) to a get-together they attend every Midsummer's Eve at Anders' friends' home in a nearby city-- which means I spent it with ACTUAL SWEDES! Working with an international ministry in a very international city means most of the people I know well in Sweden are not Swedish at all. Not to mention the fact that Swedes are quite hard to get to know in all their reserved, isolated ways. Hence, it was a real treat to spend the day with about 20 of them doing everything they would typically do on this holiday-- though I steered clear of the drinking. Swedes love their occasions to drink and Midsummer's Eve is one of their big ones! They started up at lunch time and didn't finish all the rest of the day. But it was okay because the more they had to sip on, the friendlier and more open they became, so the more I was made to feel welcome and at home :)
Along with the drinking of vast amounts of alcohol, Maypole dancing is the main Midsummer tradition here in Sweden. So we went to a community Maypole dance where there were traditional dancers in traditional dress so I could take in the experience.
Originally, Midsummer began as a pagan fertility ritual at the beginning of the crop season. The maypole was therefore a phallic symbol and the practices on Midsummer's Eve were decidedly less family-oriented than they are today! When Christianity came to Sweden, the customs were adapted so that even the traditional Maypole now incorporates the shape of a cross!
Back at Anders' friends' house, we built our own little Maypole-- the prettiest one in Sweden this year, if I do say so myself :) I was very happy to even be a part of its construction on this, my day of being educated in Swedish Midsummer culture :) I made the second hanging ring myself!
When it was finished, we made rings of flowers for our heads and then played traditional Midsummer songs and danced around. It was HILARIOUS to play along as all these usually highly-reserved Swedes held hands and danced around a Maypole to songs about frogs and cows and all manner of other things :) I thoroughly enjoyed it!