June 21st is the summer solstice, celebrated as Midsommar, one of Sweden's most beloved holidays. Although its celebration has its roots in the astrological cycle - the waning and waxing of the life-giving sun - with the arrival of Christianity around the year 1000 it became incorporated as a religious celebration - St. John the Baptist Day. This initiative never really took off. Instead Midsommar remains a celebration with many pagan and popular characteristics. According to popular belief, flowers and plants possess quasi-magical properties during the time of longest and most intense sunlight. It is believed that if an unmarried woman picks various kinds of flowers on Midsommar Eve and puts them under her pillow, she will dream about her husband to be. However, one must pick the flowers in silence or otherwise their magical powers will be lost.
Every Swedish village puts up a maypole - a tall tree trunk is decorated with greens and flowers, and women, especially girls, pick wildflowers and makes themselves wreaths to wear on their heads. Once the maypole is raised - a group effort of village men - the music and dancing begin. If you own a folk costume, this is the day to wear it! Circle dances around the maypole are danced by young and old - many silly children's dances to songs like 'Small Froggies', 'Dear Maiden', and 'Here we go round the Mulberry bush'. Later, the children go to bed, and traditional couple dancing begins to the strains of fiddle music - lasting through the light night until sunrise, which occurs 2:30-3 am in most of Sweden. So this is Sweden's festival of light and life - make sure you enjoy it too.