The origins of magical Swedish Midsummer

Midsummer’s Eve is possibly the biggest public celebration in Sweden, and it’s happening this week on Friday. Swedes gather to eat, drink and be merry together.

So, what are the origins of Midsummer and why is it celebrated? Well, according to authors Po Tidholm and Agneta Lilja, the origins of Midsummer date back as far as the 6th century:

‘In agrarian times, Midsummer celebrations in Sweden were held to welcome summertime and the season of fertility. In some areas people dressed up as ‘green men’, clad in ferns. They also decorated their houses and farm tools with foliage, and raised tall, leafy maypoles to dance around, probably as early as the 1500s.

Midsummer was primarily an occasion for young people, but it was also celebrated in the industrial communities of central Sweden, where all mill employees were given a feast of pickled herring, beer and snaps. It was not until the 1900s, however, that this became the most Swedish of all traditional festivities.

Ever since the 6th century AD, Midsummer bonfires have been lit around Europe. In Sweden, they were mainly found in the southern part of the country. Young people also liked to visit holy springs, where they drank the healing water and amused themselves with games and dancing. These visits were a reminder of how John the Baptist baptised Christ in the River Jordan.

Midsummer Night is the lightest of the year and was long considered a magical night, as it was the best time for telling people’s futures. Girls ate salted porridge so that their future husbands might bring water to them in their dreams, to quench their thirst. You could also discover treasures, for example by studying how moonbeams fell.

Also that night, it was said, water was turned into wine and ferns into flowers. Many plants acquired healing powers on that one night of the year.’

There is still an element of magic in the otherwise well-organised Midsummer celebrations of today. One example is the erection of a large phallic flower-clad maypole, and the dancing around of said pole. This is an ancient fertility rite. Related to this, is the association of love to the festivities of Midsummer. In fact many Swedish babies are made around this weekend.

Another example is the gathering of 7 types of summer flower to place under your pillow at night. It is said if you do this, then your future husband will appear to you in your dreams.

And then there’s the light. On Midsummer’s Eve is doesn’t really get dark. Depending on where you are in Sweden, it ranges from a dim glow in the south to full on daylight in the north. In Stockholm, where I live, it is a magical dusky twilight that conjures up associations of witchcraft, druids and paganism.

So while today’s Midsummer might be a well-orchestrated gathering of friends and family, there is still some magic to be found if you look hard enough.

Swedish National Day – a new king, an old king and a new constitution

On 6 June 1523, Gustav Vasa was crowned King of Sweden. He was one of the few survivors of the Stockholm Bloodbath, in which his father and 80 other nobles were murdered, Game of Thrones style.

He ruled the country until 1560. During his reign, he released Sweden from the Kalmar Union consisting of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. He also turned Sweden from a catholic country into a Protestant one, with the monarch and not the pope as head of the church.

6 June is another significant day in Swedish history – on 6 June 1809 the country signed a new constitution. This lay the foundation for Sweden’s current status as an independent democracy and was in place until 1974.

The constitution returned political power to the parliament after King Gustav IV Adolph was deposed in a military coup in 1809. He was the last Swedish monarch to rule over Finland. After him, the crown passed not to his children but to his uncle, Charles VIII. Charles had no legitimate heir, which set into motion the quest for a successor. This was found the following year in the person of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the first monarch of the present royal family.

For these two reasons, Sweden celebrates its National Day today – June 6th. It was declared in 1983, and was first celebrated as a public holiday in 2005.

The day is celebrated with various events up and down the country.

World Book Day – and my book on Sweden

Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.

So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.

You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

‘Long’ Friday in Sweden

Today, Good Friday, is called ‘Long Friday’ in Swedish – ‘Långfredag’. It commemorates the long day and the long suffering that Jesus endured on the cross, according to Christian teachings. It is a public holiday, and for many years, everything was closed in Sweden making the day long and boring for many people. Now, most things are open.

‘Long Friday’ is a day of cooking, shopping and going for walks. Some people attend church services. Tomorrow, Easter Saturday, is the normal day of celebration when Swedes gather to eat from a bulging smörgåsbord. Typical food includes variations of salmon, egg, herring and lamb. Dark Easter beer is consumed and snaps is knocked back.

In English, this day used to also be called Long Friday, but at some point in history it changed to Good Friday. Good in this context means Holy. According to the Daily Mash this is ‘still stupid. You don’t get much worse days than being flogged, nailed to a cross, then stabbed. And that includes your annual performance review. It’s like calling funerals ‘Happy Burying Nana Day’.

60 years of Sweden’s Sun film

Every Monday, once a week, from the beginning of the year until the Summer Solstice, the ‘Sun film’ is broadcast on Swedish TV. The film shows what time the sun goes up and down in Lund, Stockholm, Kiruna and Lycksele.

Fantastically retro, the film has been broadcast for almost 60 years.

And tonight, I recorded it for you….

Swedish Valentine – All Hearts’ Day’

Like many places around the world, Swedes celebrate Valentine’s Day today, on February 14th. Called ‘Alla Hjärtans Dag’ – All Hearts’ Day – it is a newish tradition that started around 50 years ago, but didn’t really gain traction until the 1990’s.

American influence and commercialization are often cited as the reasons for this. I also think that it’s a timing issue – the month of February is an otherwise boring time of year in Sweden. A little celebration is a small distraction from the tedium.

In Sweden, Valentine’s wishes are not only limited to love interests, but also extended to children, friends and even school teachers.

Romantically, the most common Valentine’s gifts are flowers, and treating your loved one to a nice dinner, in a restaurant or at home. Approximately 10 million red roses are sold around this day, which is huge considering the population is also 10 million.

Heart-shaped candy is also popular, and in Sweden the most common is ‘jelly hearts’. Sales of chocolate and candy apparently increase by 90% every year around Valentine’s Day.

So, I might not have flowers or chocolates to give you, but I’d like to wish each of you a Happy Valentine’s Day. I appreciate that you want to read my writing, and in return I send you some loving energy. I hope you have love and affection in your life and that, now most Covid restrictions are lifted, you can celebrate with a long, warm hug!

My book on Sweden – the Essential Guide!

My book is doing really well, which I’m very proud of. You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021.

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!

Sweden’s ‘Britt Summer’

Currently, many places in Sweden are experiencing warmer summer-like temperatures. The sun is shining, the air is warm but the leaves on the trees are golden brown. Known in English as Indian Summer, this brief, warm spell in the autumn is, in Swedish, called a ‘Britt Summer.’ It has nothing to do with Britain as you might assume but something completely different.

To be an official Britt Summer, the warm spell has to roughly coincide with the 7th October. This date is known as Birgitta Day, or Britt Day in the Swedish calendar – hence the name. The day celebrates the canonisation of Swedish Saint Birgitta. Legend has it that Saint Birgitta thought the temperature in Sweden was too cold so she prayed for the citizens of the country. And the Lord answered her prayer by providing everybody with a few extra days of summer!

These warm, sunny days are very welcome – the last throws of summer, before we are plunged into darkness and winter takes us in its grasp.

Interestingly, and oddly, Britt Summer is also known as ‘Fattigmanssommar’ (Poor man’s Summer) and Grävlingsommar (Badger Summer).

If anyone knows the reason why, please share it with us!

Swedish astrology

The earliest astrology can trace its roots to 19th Century BC. Beginning in Mesopotamia, it later spread to Greece and Rome, and eventually Central and Northern Europe.

Western astrology has twelve signs, reflecting the month in which you were born. In English, these signs are named after the original Greek words. But not the Swedish names. Like much else in the Swedish language, the words for these signs are very literal. They are also in the definite form.

Aquarius – Vattumannen (the Water Man)

Pisces – Fiskarna (the Fish)

Aries – Väduren (the Ram)

Taurus – Oxen (the Oxe)

Cancer – Kräftan (the Crab)

Leo – Lejonet (the Lion)

Virgo – Jungfrun (the Maiden / virgin)

Libra – Vågen (the Scale)

Scorpio – Skorpionen (the Scorpion)

Sagittarius – Skytten (the Archer)

Capricorn – Stenbocken (the Goat/Ibex)

The Swedish priest who refuses to marry heterosexuals


Swedish priest, Lars Gårdefeldt, is taking a stand against discrimination in the Swedish church. Since 2009, same sex couples have been legally allowed to marry within the relatively-liberal Church of Sweden.

However, there is a loophole. Priests are not obliged to marry a couple if they have conscientious objections to the union. Under this rule, clergy can turn away same-sex couples if they are morally opposed.

Lars Gårdefeldt sees this as bigoted and discriminatory. In response, he is refusing to marry opposite-sex couples. He says that if some priests can turn away same-sex couples, then he, by the same reasoning, can turn away heterosexuals.

He is regretful that he needs to carry out this action, but he wants to highlight the reprehensibility of the situation. He believes the only way forward is that the loophole is removed and that the Church of Sweden does not recruit anti-gay priests in the future.

On social media, Lars Gårdefeldt has been met by positive comments and a fair amount of criticism. Some of the negative comments, unsurprisingly, are hateful and extremely offensive.

Heterosexuals who feel violated by his decision are experiencing exclusion for perhaps the first time. Maybe, if they could take a step back from their own outrage, and reflect on how that feels, they could use this experience to understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of discrimination. Maybe they can empathize with minority groups who have to navigate discrimination their entire lives.

To quote Lars Gårdefeldt, maybe they could actually realise ’the absurdity of refusing marriage to two consulting adults.’