Friday, July 1, 2011

My First Midsommer Fest


One last post about Sweden, I swear. I have to write about Midsommer, because for me this is the most exciting part of the trip. I have never celebrated this holiday before and the Swedes I have talked to about this seem to have differing opinions.

One woman said that I (like many Swedes) will hope for the sun but will most likely spend the day in the rain. She said it won’t be disappointing, but it won’t be what I expect. Except I don’t know what I think I will see. People in traditional Swedish dress dancing around a pole, maybe?

One man said that it is nothing special. You eat hot dogs and pizza. Maybe drink too much. I think he either goes to the wrong parties or has unrealistic expectations. And then he told me to look out for the little frogs, whatever that means.

Leif described Midsommer as everyone dancing and singing around a decorated pole that is a fertility symbol. There would be traditional foods like herrings and strawberries. He wiggled his eyebrows at me and said that the lucky girls get invited to go for a late night walk in the woods.

As you can see, no one truly agreed on what I should expect. So when the morning of the festival began bright and sunny I was excited. Maybe it would be a beautiful day after all. I had been told that we were going to spend the day in Sk√§nninge, which is not pronounced like it looks, but like “whanning-gah.” Sort of. Swedish is a language filled with many vowels and I am only beginning to learn the first few rules of pronunciation. The first rule is always have a Swedish mother-tongue person standing next to you as a reference tool. The second rule is don’t get frustrated, sometimes even Swedes can’t explain why a word is pronounced a certain way, it just is.

Leif’s sister Ingela brought an armful of flowers into the kitchen and told me we had to make the flower wreaths for our hair. She handed me a spool of thread, pointed to the flowers and told me to do what she did. I hadn’t really planned on being creative, but I did want to wear some pretty flowers in my hair, so I sat down and waited for her to start. First we took some blue flowers that were symbolic of their region (like the Lady Slipper is the state flower for Minnesota) and tied those together. They look sort of like blue bachelor buttons. Then a lavender-pink flower, then some daisies, then back to the blue flowers and repeat till it fits around your head. The name for daisies in Sweden translates to “priests collars” which I think is a very poetic name. Less poetic is the translation of their name for Queen Ann’s Lace, which is something like “dog biscuits.”

My wreath didn’t look too bad for a first attempt; it faintly resembled a circle and didn’t fall apart. It was a little sparse in places but I figured I could put that at the back and at least I wouldn’t know it was there. Ingela made a wreath for her six year old daughter and a little posy for herself because we were running out of flowers. Then it was time to pack the cooler and get ready to leave for the “event.”

Apparently we weren’t staying in Sk√§nninge but going to another place where Leif’s older niece was going to perform in a play after the dancing. So we drove out to the middle of nowhere and in a little park we got ready to celebrate. We were the only ones there for awhile and I wasn’t sure if there would be much going on, but then people started to come from everywhere. I think it’s like the 4th of July in the States where every town has their own celebration, no matter small they are. It rained on and off while we waited for the fun to begin. First rain and wind cold enough for jackets, then sun and still so that all the layers had to come off and I could feel my nose getting sunburned. Then back to rain and jackets. So I guess that part of the prediction was true. There will be rain.

I will do my best to describe things…it all happened kind of fast and some of the translation didn’t keep up so my impressions are sometimes confused. I sincerely apologize to all my Swedish friends for taking your favorite holiday and completely misrepresenting it.

The pole, or fertility symbol, is shaped like a cross, with a hoop hanging from each arm. All of it is covered in green leaves. I later found out that there are usually flowers woven into the greens, but not on this particular pole. Everyone ignores the pole until a man with an accordion starts warming up and a person with a microphone (a woman in our case) in traditional dress tells everyone to get over to the pole so things can get started. The crowd begins to separate into circles around the pole and the music starts. Everyone from babies to grandparents line up to dance together and celebrate summer’s arrival. I think.

Here’s where the little frogs come in. The first song is about a little frog with no ears and no tail (there are actions to all these songs, did I mention that?) With only a little stretch of the imagination, this is the Swedish version of the bunny hop. Then there is a song where each consecutive circle turns in a different direction, but I can’t remember what the song is about. Then there is one about a car going in the ditch, again with actions that include a rush toward the pole and a sudden drop to the ground. I’m not sure, maybe the driver was trying to avoid the little frogs from the first song. Then there was a song that was about animals and seemed to be a strange marriage of the Hokey-Pokey and Old McDonald.

I’m sorry if I can’t be clearer about this. I was watching probably a hundred people in modern dress dance in circles around a clearly ancient symbol in the middle of the woods to the accompaniment of an accordion that played exactly like my father plays. While all the songs were considered traditional, I’m pretty sure no one was singing about cars a hundred years ago. I’m pretty sure the final dance to the ice cream give-away was also not part of the original celebration. I was also slightly distracted because I was patiently waiting for my date to ask me to dance around the fertility symbol with pretty flowers in my hair, which he finally did and then my day was perfect.

Oh, yes, we did eat herrings (three kinds) and new potatoes with sour cream and fresh chives and meatballs and strawberries and one small glass of schnapps. And darn it, the prediction about hot dogs was correct, but I chose not to have one. As for the invitation to explore the woods, well…

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