Under dense and grey clouds, yellow and black clad firemen shouted instructions at each other.
Let your friends know
Wooden poles in hand they pushed hard in unison at a stick straight pine pole to raise it. Inch by inch it rose to vertical carrying a metal rooster and a blue yellow streamer to the top 20 (65’) meters above. Further down the shaved pine trunk round wreaths of fresh branches a cross bar and a few heart shaped wreaths. Soon the work was done and the crowd cheered before a band struck up traditional melodies on violin here in Leksand, Midsummer central. However this was just the warm-up act for tomorrows traditional raising of what was claimed to be the world’s tallest midsummer pole or as it is also called Maypole (apparently referring to the Swedish word maja an old word for female farmhand).
To make my first Midsummer in this part of Sweden authentic I had rented a small red painted hut with white window frames at a local hostel. No water, no toilet and shared kitchen with washroom and showers in the man building. It was back to basics with a bunkbed. Suited me just fine after weeks on the road and I slept like a rock.
There are many traditions associated with Swedish midsummer, one being rain, not that anybody really wants it but it just so happens that it often happens. After breakfast I ventured back into town for a peak on the preparations for the evenings main event. The location where it would happen is aptly named “the pit” as that is exactly what it is, a bowl with slanted grass covered slopes. There a wooden stage had been laid out at the bottom and a few tents erected in case of rain……
Float your boat
The world’s longest Midsummer pole lay on the ground awaiting decoration. A few umbrellas had been placed out on the slope. At this time of the day in essence nothing was going on but as this was to be a the longest day with 19 hours of daylight there was plenty of time left. It all picked up in the afternoon when around 5 PM crowds started to build along the river outlet from Lake Siljan. Conversations were held in several foreign languages including English and German as this is a big tourist draw.
The crowds looked upstream towards the lake as the silhouettes of three long slender rowboats came into view. Oars broke the dark mirror surface. Violin music reached shore as the church boats rhythmically approached. The traditional boats were originally built to carry villagers from rural outposts to an annual summertime church meet to conduct weddings, baptisms and church services. The boats are nowadays only in use during this the most Swedish of all Midsummer celebrations. Children filled the center of the first boat oared by men and women all in traditional costumes. At the front a large heart shaped wreath. A second boat followed also filled with people in costumes and the third carried the band playing traditional Swedish folk music.
As the boats moored the travelers disembarked to line up for the parade. Swedish flags at the front, then wreaths, the band and the followers. The entire parade was dressed in traditional local costumes. Knee length yellow pants and socks with tassels, white shirt, waistcoat and black coat for the men and white socks black skirt with a striped apron and white blouses, vests for the women some of which also wore a wreath of flowers on the head. The music moved the parade through the assembled spectators towards the pit where more people had assembled.
As the parade reached the final destination the crowd joined in to fill the slopes around the stage. The music continued with show dance as wreaths were attached to the white midsummer pole lying on the grass. Then the moment came to raise the 28 meter (90’) pole into the air. This time it was about two dozen men some in traditional clothes that had the honor to raise the pole from horizontal to vertical with wooden “scissors”. “Oh-hey, Oh-hey” the crowd cheered as the pole incrementally rose to vertical. Once secured with a few bolts at the bottom the musicians played up to dance for everyone. People held hands to form large circles around the pole. Some had already loosened their inhibitions with a few under the belt, another Swedish tradition. The multiple rings rotated in opposite directions but all stopped in unison to play simple games including imitating frogs (små grodorna). The dancing continued for an hour into the night before the official celebration was over.
All night long
As dusk fell around 9PM another Swedish tradition picked up. The violins were replaced by the music of Chuck Berry and Elvis as cars from the era filled the streets. “Raggare” (cruisers) rolled by in roaring Chevys, Dodges, Olds and Fords with few Volvo Amazons for local flavor in the mix. Some of these priced possessions were adorned with freshly cut birch branches as trunks were opened on a central parking lot and beers and more ingested in a sort of Swedish “tail gate” party. As Swedish law dictates a zero driving under influence policy designated drivers stayed sober. Nearby the narrow pedestrian street in the city center was filled with club music and crowds spilling out on the street in the cool summer’s eve. This the longest day of the year was not one to sleep away. However when sleep hit some girls may still place seven different flowers under their pillow to dream about a husband to be. As for me my night was dreamless and the flowers left standing in nature. Glad Midsommar!
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