Celebrate Solstice Like a Swede: A Guide to Swedish Midsummer

Summer Around the World

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In Sweden, a country that's cold and dark for much of the year, celebrating the sun is of the utmost importance. This is why the national holiday midsommar is a much awaited for affair. Midsommar is my favorite day of the year, and no matter where I am I make it a point to celebrate.

Want to join in? Here's a guide to celebrating Swedish Midsummer like a Swede.

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The afternoon of Midsummer's Eve calls for dancing around a large pole decorated in branches and flowers, and the evening is reserved for eating and celebrating with friends. Because you're celebrating summer, it's important to be outside. Only a downpour will get a Swede to move the party indoors. Grab a wool sweater if you get cold, because a good Swedish midsummer dinner goes into the late hours.

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The cornerstones of a good midsummer are freshly picked flowers, like daisies and clover (there's a legend that if you pick seven kinds of flowers and put them under your pillow on Midsummer's Eve, you'll dream of the person you're to spend your life with), birch branches, aquavit, pickled herring, boiled potatoes and a dessert involving strawberries. The table is heavy on seasonal and local foods.

If you're lucky enough to travel to Sweden for midsummer, it's an event you'll never forget. But fortunately, you don't have to travel to the land of midnight sun. Celebrating Swedish midsummer no matter where you are is perfectly doable, as long as you have the right food and drink in place.

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What to Drink on Swedish Midsummer

No midsummer table will be complete without snaps. No, this is not the peppermint version you put in hot chocolate. This is aquavit, often flavored with classic Scandinavian spices like caraway and anise. You can find several imported kinds of aquavit, but there are a few American distilleries making it now, including Gamle Ode, House Spirits Distillery, Sound Spirits, The Hardware Distillery Co., and North Shore Distillery.

But don't think that you can just drink your nubbe as the Swedes call it. Snaps comes with snapsvisor, essentially "snaps songs." They're songs that all Swedes know, and as the night goes on they tend to get louder and crazier.

Beyond snaps, serve a light beer. For the non-alcoholic crowd, a cordial, like one made from lingonberries or elderflower, is in order, which you can easily make festive by adding sparkling water.

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What to Eat for Dinner on Swedish Midsummer

There's a reason that the Swedes are famous for the smörgåsbord. At feasts like midsummer it's common to have many dishes on the table that you can pick and choose from.

No Swedish midsummer celebration is complete without pickled herring, called sill in Swedish, and boiled potatoes with dill. The potatoes are most often new potatoes, freshly harvested potatoes that are smaller than their older counterparts. You can go wild with the pickled herring, putting out several varieties on the table. Make sure there's a bowl of crème fraîche or sour cream with chopped chives to go with.

Salmon is a common main dish at midsummer, and you can also serve gravadlax. This special cured salmon is perfect for piling onto a piece of knäckebröd (hardtack or crispbread).

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What to Eat for Dessert on Swedish Midsummer

The essentials of a midsummer dessert are easy: strawberries and whipped cream. Sometimes that's in cake form, called a jordgubbstårta, sometimes they're just on their own, but the key is getting freshly picked, bright red berries.

Many Swedes will put a sticky chocolate cake on the table for good measure. Because if anything pairs well with strawberries and whipped cream, it's certainly chocolate.

Glad midsommar!

(Image credits: Patrick Neckman; Bengt Nyman; Johan Hansson; Twingly; Charlotta Wasteson; Kajsa Hartig under CC BY 2.0)

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