Rituals for summer solstice come to life

Create your own Midtsommer traditions

Photo: Colourbox
Midtsommer is good time to stop and smell the flowers and pick the prettiest for your own flower crown.

Laila Simon

Despite the deep Christian roots of Norway, Scandinavian traditions can lean toward the pagan side of the line. Are these practices derived from pre-Christian Viking times? Or is the movie Midsommar a few steps too far?

To honor the season, the longest day of the year, filled with natural bounty, we’ve collected a few ways you can participate in these earth-based rituals and add a bit of witchiness into your summer celebration.

Collect midsummer blooms

Take a critical look at what is in bloom, and gather a good amount of strong and vibrant plants, flowers, and branches to form into a wreath. Midsummer is a secular holiday, founded in the celebration of light and fertility. Creating a round wreath represents the circle of life, and using your hands to weave with natural materials connects you physically to the earth. Hang this wreath on your front door. As the natural seasons change, so will the look of your wreath. The placement on the outside of your home signals that you are part of the natural cycles of the world. Save the wreath until the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Gather with friends and burn the wreath in a bonfire. This burning is the full cycle of the year complete, and a sign that there is always light, even in the darkness.

Herbs and other medicinal botanicals are said to be at their peak near the summer solstice. This is a great time to forage and preserve plants for the year ahead. Many fruits and berries are ripe in early summer, and canning or preserving jams is a way to bring energy from the sun into the winter months.

Flower crowns are a traditional visual symbol of this Scandinavian holiday. Sweden’s annual celebrations have made the crowns popular around the world. The circular gathering of flowers and vines is said to ward off bad spirits.

Most commonly, they are worn on the head, but these gathered blooms can also be collected and sent down a river or floating on a body of water to send and provide blessings for future generations.

Light of the fire

Bonfires are one of the essential ways to honor the high summer season. Fires cleanse and provide light, mirroring the long day of sun in parts of Norway and Sweden. The flames also ward off evil and can be used to purge old items from the past like letters or other writings.

Standing in the light of the fire is a time when meditating on light and darkness can be particularly potent. Take advantage of the late night light and dance under the midnight sun to receive the charge and energy of the light.

Feasting and merriment

A communal toast to the season is a fun way to start off the holiday meal. Foods that frequent the midsummer table include: preserved fish, meatballs, pickles, fresh vegetables and fruits, small potatoes, crispbread or rye bread, egg dishes like deviled eggs or quiche, various cheeses, beet or cucumber salads, and a classic strawberry dessert with cake and cream. A true smørgåsbord!

Traditionally, a toast is made with snaps (aquavit) chilled in a shot glass. Aquavit is one of the oldest Scandinavian liquors; the earliest record of the spirit was in 1531 in a letter from a Danish lord to a Norwegian bishop.

In its early days the caraway-flavored alcohol was said to have curing medicinal properties. Now, we know that although it doesn’t cure illnesses, it can be a nice digestive after a large festive meal.

Each Nordic country has a different preference when it comes to aquavit. In Norway, many prefer the deep barrel-aged flavor. While in Sweden, they distill “younger” liquors that have a bright and clean taste.

The group Midtsommer celebrations often culminate in a large dancing and singing affair. In some regions, this takes place around a maypole, but in others, singing happens around the dinner table, especially if snaps are flowing freely.

Taking part in these rituals and gathering with friends and family should feel accessible and easy. This holiday is all about taking advantage of mother nature’s gift in a time of abundance.

You don’t need to go out of your way to purchase a lot of fancy ingredients or decor, use what you have and share the responsibilities of cooking and gathering plants if you are able.

This Midtsommer, take a look at this list of and participate in what resonates with you. If that means simply having a nice dinner with friends, that is a celebration in and of itself.

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Laila Simon

Laila Simon is a writer in Minneapolis. She is a dual citizen of Norway and the United States and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2017. When she’s not attempting ambitious recipes, Laila translates Norwegian poetry and adds to her houseplant collection.