Friday, July 1, 2016

Midsummer: Pickled Herring, Snaps, and Fertility Symbols (by Asa Maria Bradley)

In Sweden, we take the summer solstice celebration seriously and have one of the most important holidays on the Friday immediately following the longest day of the year. It's a public holiday and the city centers are abandoned as everyone goes to the country side to celebrate.

This year, Midsummer's Eve fell on June 24th and I celebrated with a bunch of Swedes at my friend Ingrid's lake cabin. Here in Washington State, we're far north enough to where it was almost like being home in Sweden and the sun staid up for a long time. I took this picture of the lake around 9 pm.

Midsummer Dance by Anders Zorn, 1897 
Midsummer is a very old tradition in Sweden and modern celebrations have elements of the original pagan rites to celebrate Freya and Frey, the Norse fertility goddess and god. Everyone gets the phallic symbolism of the maypole we dance around and there's a tradition for both boys and girls of picking seven different flowers to put under your pillow while you sleep. Supposedly you'll dream of the man or woman you'll eventually marry. As a teenager, I took this part of the celebrations very seriously but I can't remember if I ever dreamed of a potential spouse. I was probably to worn out from dancing around the may pole.

This year, we had all the traditional Swedish food: pickled herring of all kinds, boiled egg halves decorated with dill and shrimp, boiled potatoes, bread with creamed cod roe, pickled salmon, smoked salmon, meat balls (for the non fish eaters), Jansson's temptation (a potato, anchovies, and cream casserole), and of course snaps--the Swedish flavored vodka shot. Everyone has their own favorite recipe of which herbs and spices to use for the flavoring, so there are usually a lot of different varieties to try. The key is though that you have to sing a song--a group song--before taking the shot.

In case you'll ever find yourself among a group of Swedes on midsummer's eve, here's a tongue-in-cheek video from the Swedish tourist bureau.

Glad Midsommar! (Happy Midsummer)

2016 double RITA finalist Asa Maria Bradley grew up in Sweden surrounded by archaeology and history steeped in Norse mythology, which inspired the immortal Vikings and Valkyries in her paranormal romances. She arrived in the U.S. as a high school exchange student and quickly became addicted to ranch dressing and cop shows. Asa currently resides on a lake deep in the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest with a British husband and a rescue dog of indeterminate breed. She graduated from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers program at Eastern Washington University with an MFA in creative writing and also holds an MS in Medical Physics from University of Colorado. Visit her at, or follow her on Twitter @AsaMariaBradley.


  1. This is kind of cool! I never knew about this before.

    1. The country closes down completely for midsummer. More so than for Christmas. Maybe because there's no commercial aspect to this holiday once the booze has been bought. :-)