This weekend is the biggest bonfire, booze, booty and barbecue fest of the year up here in Scandinavia: Midsummer. Friends and families all over our lovely, luscious subcontinent will gather to celebrate the Midnight Sun and its futile attempts to set in the days surrounding the summer solstice.
That sun also sheds light on the strange high summer activities of Scandinavians. Lest the truth be forgotten, these are hi-tech societies full of industrious people with the latest thingamajigs. For three seasons out of four. When summer comes, it’s back to basics, easy living, out with the stiff upper lip and in with the…is that your wife you have thrown over your shoulder?
In Finland alone, you have the swamp soccer world cup and swamp volleyball tournament, cell phone tossing and wife-carrying contest, ice fishing competition (on connected rafts with holes in the middle of each since nothing is frozen this time of the year), and the air guitar world championships to choose from. Plus it’s Woodstock all over again in every self-respecting city, town and village.
How about some Midsummer magic? Before there was Christianity, there were Norse pagans and mythology. Most of worship happened in nature or at home, and beliefs revolved, as they often do, around the natural world and the supernatural beings that inhabit it. Tongue in cheek, some people still set out to fields and forests to chase after treasures marked by will-o’-the-wisps, to collect certain flowers and herbs for fertility, prosperity and good luck in marriage or relationships, or to gaze into wells, ponds or natural springs for a glimpse of their future spouse.
Apparently, the magic works like…well…magic. The number of births used to spike nine months after Midsummer. It may or may not have something to do with the fact you’re supposed to perform these solstice rites preferably in the nude. Want patent proof it’s a fertility fest? Visit Sweden, where a popular traditional Midsummer event is the erecting of a huge maypole. The bigger the better. Now there’s a phallic symbol if I ever saw one.
These are, as I said, the same people and countries that time and time again top all sorts of Best-place-to lists. It takes strength, stubbornness and a great sense of humor to make it through the dark, even desolate winter months. But summer is a promise of something completely different. Summer is salvation. It gives everyone something beautiful to look forward to, something wonderful to look back on, something rare to enjoy when the time comes.
And that’s what we’re doing this time-honored weekend in June. We are enjoying nature, life and the sweetness of living to the fullest, a tasty beverage in one hand, something from the grill in the other, our nearest and dearest by our side. Now, if you’ll excuse me, a certain Nordic hunk is shooting me come-hither looks. Luck be a large Viking tonight!