Saturday, June 20, 2009

Midsummers Day

The longest day of the year in the Norther hemisphere is called Midsummer's Day. The actual longest day is tomorrow, Sunday, but it is celebrated on the closest Friday. When you have been here for over a week trying to sleep when the sun is bright most of the night and there are no blinds on these huge windows, you might wonder why they want to celebrate the summer day. But when you consider that countries like Sweden have more months in which it is pitch black for more than 12 hours a day you understand why they would want to celebrate the sunshine.

Incidentally, we have solved the sleeping situation by moving to a smaller darker room - quite cramped but you only need room for the beds.

We were very lucky people once again yesterday because our Swedish friends, Michael and Karena treated us to a typical Midsummer's Day outing and a traditional meal at night. And so, we were picked up at 11am and taken to a country estate on the edge of Gothenburg which was the home of a wealthy family for a couple of centuries. It was the summer house for the family:

Replete with topiary and a mansion looking as if it came out of the deep south. But it is very Swedish as well and it is being lovingly restored by a voluntary support group - buildings rebuilt, and gardens replanted according to old plans. There are beautiful vegetable gardens which you can see in the background of some of these photos. These are of particular interest to Michael and Karena as they have quite an amazing vegetable garden themsleves - of which they are justly proud. We have been the happy recipients of some of their fresh produce, especially the new potatoes and the rhubarb - one of my favourites from childhood when my father and my Mother's father both had vegetable gardens - although my mother probably did most of the work in Dad's garden. Men always were the boss of the outdoor things in those times. Craig's Dad Len and Craig himself both have grown huge vegetable gardens in the past, so that part was enjoyed by all.

When in Sweden - pose in front of the flag. Craig loves the design of their flag, therfore a rare picture of him (he liks to be on the other side of the camera) with our hosts, Michael and Karena.
And here is Karena with a view of the house from the back.

But the really lovely thing was all the little girls with floral wreaths in their hair, an age-old tradition. And of course, it reminded me of my own little blonde girl of a couple of decades ago who loved things like this, dressing up and going out.
This little girl is being held by her Dad so she can see the singers on ths stage and the next little girl is waiting for the Maypole to be raised. The Maypole is decorated with vines and flowers and wreaths and lays on the ground until it is time for the dancing to start.

You can see why I was captivated by all the little Phoebes. Those of my readers who knew her then will see the memories for me.
And one final little maiden dressed for the Maypole dance. Mothers and Dads also wore flowers and entwined vines on their head and despite the gloomy weather, there was a pervading air of excitement and hapiness.
And then it was time for the Maypole to be raised.
And everyone lends a hand to push it up with sticks and by hand until it is erect - and looking strangely religious for a celebration that Michael kept describing a "pagan". Not at all like the maypoles we are accustomed to. And everyone forms circles, holding hands and they all dance around to different folk songs. You can see the dancing on a video in one of the posts below this one.
And it rained on and off all day, but nothing dampened the spirit of the Swedes out to celebrate a special day. Here are some of the vegetable gardens I was talking about behind Craig and Karena and myself holding our umbrellas. Umbrellas add interest to photos.

And then we were treated to a series of dancing by elder citizens in traditional dress. Each region in Sweden has traditional dress. There are variations on a theme and the embroidered silk bonnets are especially intricate and treasured. See the videos below for action shots of the dancers.
But the rain didn't let up and it kept coming. Nothing could dampen the atmosphere of the day.
Eventually we made our way back to Michael and Karena's house. There they had a beautiful Summer Cake - once again a Midsummer tradition - they had made for us. It was delicious and we ate more than our share - I think we may have eaten some of the cake that Karena was taking today to her Mother and Father. But it was very good.

Their home is wonderfully Swedish of course. Karena has the taste and style that the Scandanavians and especially the Swedes are noted for. But I was also shown Michael's beautiful hand made wooden boxes and hand whittled spoons as well as the furniture he has made for the home. He is a skilled craftsman with a wonderful eye for detail. I told him he is wasted as a scientist. But I suspect he knows he is better off making a living as a scientist and enjoying his hobby. We also discovered some local popular music that we will bring home with us.
We stayed for dinner. Once again traditional. We started with three kinds of pickled herring with home grown new potatoes and two kinds of schnapps to drink. Really tasty herring and the schnapps was best in small tastes. We thoroughly enjoyed this. This is what you do on Midsummers Day. For the main course we had Swedish steaks on the barbecue and followed by a rhubarb fool spiced with cardoman. A truly memorable meal.
Then we walked to the bus stop for the ride home. No driving after schnapps. And we caught a bus back to the city centre where we got on the right bus to take us the short ride to home - we thought. It was actually a 35 minute tour right around the city and several anxious moments when we both worried that we might not be on the right bus. We had the Cook's tour of Gothenburg at midnight. This morning - Saturday - we slept in and went out for coffee. But nothing open except 7-11 as it is a long weekend and most people desert the city. So, no coffee and croissants at the French bakery close by as has become our habit each morning. Oh, well we can't have it all - and we were lucky enough to experience a pagan festival yesterday. Thanks to our wonderful hosts.

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