Celebrating Midsummer night in the vodka belt region

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Midsummer is the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, and more specifically the northern European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice or take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary among different cultures. The celebration predates Christianity, and existed under different names and traditions around the world. In Scandinavia, young people visited holy springs as “a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the River Jordan

On Saint John’s Eve and Saint John’s Day, churches arrange Saint John’s worship services and family reunions also occur, which are an occasion for drinking and eating.

In Denmark, the solstitial celebration is called sankthans or sankthansaften (“St. John’s Eve”). It was an official holiday until 1770, and in accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It is the day where the medieval wise men and women (the doctors of that time) would gather special herbs that they needed for the rest of the year to cure people.

Bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and songs are traditional, although they are built in many other places where beaches may not be close by (i.e. on the shores of lakes and other waterways, parks, etc.) Bonfires are lit in order to repel witches and other evil spirits, with the burnings sending the “witch” away to Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day. Some Danes regard this tradition of burning witches as inappropriate.

As in Denmark, Sankthansaften is celebrated on June 23 in Norway. The day is also called Jonsok, which means “John’s wake”, important in Roman Catholic times with pilgrimages to churches and holy springs. Today, Sankthansaften is largely regarded as a secular or even pre-Christian event. In Western Norway, a custom of arranging mock weddings, both between adults and between children, is still kept alive. The wedding was meant to symbolize the blossoming of new life. Such weddings are known to have taken place in the 1800s, but the custom is believed to be older.

In Sweden, the Midsummer “Midsomer” is such an important festivity that there have been proposals to make the Midsummer’s Eve into the National day of Sweden instead of June 6. (In Denmark and Norway, it may also be referred to as St. Hans Day.)

Acquavit (vodka) sherry, elderberry drink

In Sweden originally a pre-Christian tradition, the holiday has during history been influenced by Christian traditions and the celebration of Saint John, but not as much as to it changing name, as in neighboring Norway and Denmark. A central symbol nowadays is the ‘midsummer pole’, a maypole that is risen on the same day as midsummers eve. The pole is a high wooden pole covered in leaves and flowers. Participants dance around the pole and sing songs. One another Swedish midsummer tradition is that girls should pick seven flowers from seven different fields. The flowers should then be put under the pillow during the midsummer eve night. This night is supposedly magic and the girl is then while sleeping supposed to dream of her future husband. Another tradition common in Sweden is to make midsummer wreaths of flowers. Greenery placed over houses and barns was supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, though most people no longer take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstång, maja coming originally from the month May, or vice versa. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole.

Other traditions include eating pickled herring with fresh potatoes, often the first from the seasons harvest, served with sour cream and chives, and often accompanied by drinking snaps. It is the biggest holiday of the year in Sweden, and with Sweden being a part of the vodka-belt, getting drunk and feasting all the whole day and night is common.

Recipe

Farmer girl in veil” Swedish dessert

In melted butter fry 350 gr bread crumble or use the German pumpernickel bread. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to it. When it is golden brown pour the crumble into a bowl and let it cool.

Make layers: smear evenly from this crumble to a cake plate, then add apple mousse, then add one layer crumble again and smear raspberry jam on the top, add one more bread crumble layer…etc.

Whip 500 ml cream stiff, flavor with vanilla sugar and cover the crumble cake with it (not only the top but the sides as well). Decorate the cake with raspberry coulis. Easy and delicious midsummer’s cake!

In Sweden Midsummer’s day is a Saturday between June 20 and June 26, but as is usual in Sweden the actual celebration is on the eve, i.e. a Friday between June 19 and June 25. Midsummer’s Eve is a de facto public holiday in Sweden with offices and many shops closed

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