SWEDEN — In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice has a history of stirring libidos, and it’s no wonder. The longest day of the year tends to kick off the start of the summer season and with it, the harvest. So it should come as no surprise that the solstice is linked to fertility — both of the vegetal and human variety.
“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 this year falls on 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.
“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.
There is a similar mythology about dreaming of one’s future spouse in parts of Greece. There, as in many European countries, the pagan solstice got co-opted by Christianity and rebranded as St. John’s Day. Still, in many villages in the country’s north, the ancient rites are still celebrated.
One of the oldest rituals is called Klidonas, and involves local virgins gathering water from the sea. The village’s unmarried women all place a personal belonging in the pot and leave it under a fig tree overnight, where — folklore has it — the magic of the day imbues the objects with prophetic powers, and the girls in question dream of their future husbands.
The next day, all the women in the village gather, and take turns pulling out objects and reciting rhyming couplets that are meant to predict the romantic fortunes of the item’s owner. These days, however, the festival is more an excuse for the community of women to exchange bawdy jokes.
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