Midsummer is, according to every Swede I’ve talked to, and Sweden.se, the most Swedish tradition of all. This Pagan celebration brings families together in the countryside to eat pickled herring and fresh potatoes, drink lots of beer and be very, very merry around the midsommarstång, an ancient fertility symbol.
Sebastian was working Friday, the actual day of Midsummer, so our celebration with his family would take place the following day. As this was the case, I went out into the forest to celebrate in my own little way.
It had been raining long and hard the night before, so I could smell the tress before I had even left the apartment.
I met this little lovely as I was heading home. He was stalking the reeds surrounding the lake, but as soon as I approached he became all butter wouldn’t melt.
The midsommarstång stood in pride of place in Pia and Peter’s garden in Hagfors. The beautifully decorated pole actually resembles the penis and testicles…because summer in Sweden is all about making babies.
Sebastian’s step-father Peter decorated the midsommarstång. Traditionally it’s always decorated with flowers, foliage and ribbons the colour of the Swedish flag.
Pia placed little fertility symbols all around the garden and in the house…
The garden was busy with life all through the weekend. I think even the bees had joy in their tiny hearts.
Pia and Peter make a great effort to grow their own fruit, and have cherries, apples and strawberries to name but a few. On Saturday, I inspected the strawberries to find many of them still wore white coats…but on Sunday it was a different story.
Sebastian and I spent Saturday morning on an adventure. A few minutes drive from Hagfors and after a short walk up an easy trail we had this view. The waterfall, known as Brattfallet is usually teaming with visitors, but on our trip, they were few and far between. The river and the surrounding landscapes have been shaped by glaciation, melting and active erosion over thousands of years, and landslides and avalanches occur regularly as the earth shifts.
On our way back from Brattfellet we took a minor detour to Ekshärads Stavkyrka, a church built in 1998 using traditional medieval church building techniques. Though neither of us are religious, we could appreciate the beauty of the place and the calmness that we found there.
I had been anticipating my first traditional Swedish midsummer meal for bloody ages. Herring and fresh potatoes were the topic of conversation for weeks. It only came to my attention at Midsummer just how proud the Swedes are about their potatoes. But rightly so because they taste better than potatoes should taste, if you get what I mean. A potato shouldn’t be able to taste so bloody good. I think the Swedes must put some magic in with the water when they boil them. I can’t think, off the top of my head, of many meals that can top this one…thank you Pia!
The herring – or sill, as the Swedes call it – that I sampled was coated in a herby, creamy sauce which I think made it that bit easier to swallow for a first timer. The texture was bizarre, one I’ve never encountered before. If you can imagine catching a fish and biting into it moments after it’s come out of the water, that’s what I think of when I eat herring. Sushi is baby food in comparison. There’s something much more manageable about sushi…but herring, you’ve got to have an iron will and a stomach of steel to eat it. But…I can see myself getting used to it!
While Sebastian and I has been out, Pia magicked together the traditional Swedish strawberry cake – jordgubbstårta. It was happiness in cake form. I think I could have devoured the whole thing by myself had I been left alone with it.
Sebastian and I are a morbid twosome, so no Midsummer would be complete without a trip to an execution site. Located about ten minutes from the centre of Hagfors, it’s a mosquito hotspot right in the middle of the woods.
Several executions were thought to have taken place here during the 17th and 18th centuries, with the last being in 1823. The dead bodies would be hung upon the wooden half crosses, and the heads plunged onto wooden spikes. The bodies were buried close by as it was forbidden to bury them in blessed soil.
As is Swedish tradition, we feasted on BBQ food then got active with badminton. Sebastian knew how to celebrate when he won…
Around the side of the garden, there was a piece of allemansplats – or all man’s place. This little meadow was home to countless delicate flowers. On any other day it would have been lovely to crawl among them and sleep for a while.
Leaving Hagfors is always difficult, and the weather turned sour as soon as we started heading back south, but my weekend was spellbinding. I couldn’t have wished for a more enjoyable Midsummer. I feel blessed to have been welcomed into such a kind, loving and generous family and I’m already longing for next year.