Thoughts on the Long-awaited Return of Summer by Alvin Gregory
Looking back on a grey and chilly December 21st. Most of the shopping done and anticipation of the upcoming celebration is pushed out by the internal glee one feels when realizing the days are going to get longer. Gone … behind us … almost forgotten are those November days of darkness in the afternoon. Every day gets better as we march toward late June.
So how is that on the verge of the June day that marks the beginning of summer, I'm not saddened by the fact that now each day gives up a little of what I waited for all these months? After all, I should be fighting depression at the thought of my beloved longer days literally fading into the sunset.
Wait! Perhaps a bit of background is needed. It turns out, based on an ancestry service, I am of Swedish, Norwegian, and Finish heritage … in other words … Scandinavian; and it turns out Scandinavians take the beginning of summer rather seriously.
In Scandinavia, the beginning of summer has a history of stirring Nordic libidos, and it's no wonder (as experience shows us it doesn't take much stirring). The longest day of the year tends to kick off the start of the summer season and with it, harvest festivities. The solstice has historically been linked to fertility. "A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden," says Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject.
Midsummer is the Scandinavian holiday celebrating the summer solstice, which in 2019 falls on Friday, June 21. Swedish traditions include dancing around a maypole – a symbol which some view as phallic – and feasting on herring and copious amounts of vodka. Hmmm, herring and vodka … that explains quite a bit!
"Drinking is the most typical Midsummer tradition. There are historical pictures of people drinking to the point where they can't go on anymore," says Swahn. While the libations have a hand in the subsequent baby boom, Swahn points out that even without the booze, Midsummer is a time rich in romantic ritual.
"There used to be a tradition among unmarried girls, where if they ate something very salty during Midsummer, or else collected several different kinds of flowers and put these under their pillow when they slept, they would dream of their future husbands," he says. I'm sure there must be some ancient Viking warning about placing herring under your pillow.
Ah ha … there it is! It’s in my genes! Now for a little ice in my vodka … anybody for strawberries and herring? Happy midsummer to all ...