They take Midsummer seriously in the Nordic countries – and understandably so. As the sun keeps his hat firmly locked away throughout the winter, the longest day of the year is truly a cause for vodka-shotting, herring-pickling celebration. With nature in full bloom and school out for summer, many people head to the countryside to gather with friends and family around bonfires as the sun barely sets, if at all. Here, four illustrators (Anna and Monika from Sweden, and Marika and Anna Emilia from Finland) recount and illustrate their favourite Midsummer's Eve traditions.
Midsummer is always on a day between June 19th and 25th
Anna Lindsten, Sweden
"One of my favourite things to do at Midsummer’s Eve, except eating lots of pickled herring, is to pick seven kinds of flowers. It was believed that if you picked the flowers and placed them under your pillow on Midsummer’s Eve you would dream about your future loved one. I don’t have to put the flowers under my pillow, lucky me, so I put them in a vase instead and set the table, getting ready to eat all that herring."
Marika Maijala, Finland
"My favourite midsummer tradition is a sauna. I like to spend the midsummer somewhere by a lake or sea, in a cottage, with friends. We stay up the whole night, eating, chatting, having sauna and swimming. There often is a moment when I swim in the lake alone, after the sauna, breathing, listening to friends talking somewhere nearby. Water in the Finnish lakes is often quite dark and still – you can’t really see through it. It feels a bit mysterious to move in it. The colour of skin looks pale in the dark water, and even the smallest sound is easy to hear."
Monika Forsberg, Sweden
"Midsummer in Lulea, a coastal city of Swedish Lapland is sometimes warm but often it's still freezing. My early memories of Midsummer's Eve are of my dad, a few neighbours and I walking into the forest and cutting down some trees to build a maypole on the common next to our house. In the evening, people would gather there and the mosquitoes would be out in full force. There would be music and dancing around the maypole. I remember the smell of our neighbour's pipe. A smell of cherry, I think. (This was at a time I had never tasted a cherry except one of those glazed ones on a cake). The smoke kept the mosquitoes away. It doesn't get dark on Midsummer's Eve. You eat pickled herring and potatoes and the grown-ups would drink snaps."
Snaps is the Scandinavian term for shots of strong alcohol – usually aquavit, sometimes vodka
Anna Emilia Laitinen, Finland
"Midsummer is a sweet scent by a lake, where a bonfire is lit, while the sun hardly sets. People dance and talk and row with a boat. There is a certain respect to the nature, which is full of magical power on this special season that only stays around us so briefly. The sound of birch tree leaves flying in the wind and glimmering buttercups on a meadow, while everyone has a sauna-fresh smile on their face."