Traditional holidays from ages past that somehow still survived to the modern day have always been a fascinating topic for me. Especially if theyâ€™re less mainstream than the ones weâ€™re used to â€“ Christmas and Easter are a bit too well-known, for example, so they canâ€™t really hold much surprise in regard with their traditions. Therefore, holidays like the Cinco de Mayo or, even less mainstream, Midsummer, are the perfect occasion to explore some unknown traditions of an almost forgotten holiday and maybe try them out. Heck â€“ even if you donâ€™t actually try them out â€“ itâ€™s still an interesting cultural trip worth taking. In the case of Midsummer at least, the pagan rites that were known as Midsummer are so intriguing they would make any modern day Wiccan green with envy.
So, letâ€™s try to tap a bit into this mysterious summer rite, present throughout Europe, but especially prominent today in its Scandinavian part.
1. Try baking a Swedish solstice bread
Yes, itâ€™s a pretty ambitious task, but itâ€™s an essential part of any Swedish Midsummer celebration. In Sweden and the neighboring Scandinavian and Baltic countries, the Midsummer solstice holiday was preserved so well that itâ€™s still a major happening. You could try recreating the event at home: invite some of your friends and serve some smoked salmon snacks, on this very special and authentic bread meant precisely for that. Tell tales of Odin and the giants and drink the night away. You can find the recipe for the bread here.
2. Make a Midsummer bonfire
This should be easy enough. For extra safety, make it as a camping fire; just abstain from the marshmallows or the country songs and drink mead with your friends instead.
3. Make a hay roll with your friends and set it on fire on top of a hill (kids, donâ€™t try this at home!)
To symbolize the setting sun (which from now on will be less potent then until now, since Midsummer means the sun is at its peak) and the shrinking day, European peoples would make a big hay roll for Midsummer, as tall as man, and put it at the top of a hill in the evening. As the people gathered for the celebration, someone was tasked with setting the hay roll on fire and giving it a push down the hill. What ensued was the image of a fire circle tumbling down in the dark, just like the setting sun. As a disclaimer, I should probably stress again that this kind of thing is totally not safe to try unless in a large group, unless itâ€™s a safe environment without the risk of starting a fire around and so on.
4. Make a flower wreath and wear it all day
In Central and Eastern European countries (like Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria), the folk customs from the olden days would separate the boys and the girls until the big celebration with the bonfire which reunited the two groups later on. During the day, both groups would be charged with special tasks, and the girlsâ€™ tasks would often include braiding a flower wreath which could be worn on oneâ€™s head. Girls would wear them all day, and pass them on to other members of the family the next day. It was believed that wearing such a wreath would bring good luck and health until the next year, and if a girl would sleep with her wreath beneath her pillow during Midsummer night, she would have a great chance to dream of her fated one. If youâ€™re a guy, donâ€™t feel excluded â€“ just make one and gift it to a girl or woman in your life and say that itâ€™s for Midsummer.
5. Make an Eastern European sweetbread with yeast
The good part is that it will be easier to pull off than the Swedish solstice bread, so you could start with this one if youâ€™re feeling a bit oven-shy. Eastern Europe is specialized in sweet breads, based on an yeasted dough, which are consumed especially at holidays, but hold a ritual value in themselves. For example, a bread like this will be used both at a wedding â€“ for being broken into four and then thrown in the direction of North, South, East and West by the bride â€“ and at a funeral, for being given away and sometimes even buried with the dead so they have something to eat on their journey to the other side. To cut a long story short, Midsummer is another great occasion for Eastern Europeans to bake their sweetbreads and you could try making one yourself. An example of an English recipe can be found here (and itâ€™s tested and fail-proof). In Eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria, the skies open up during Midsummer night and prayers can be heard all the way up to heaven more easily. Bake the breads and make a wish!