Thursday, June 24, 2010

Midsommar 2010

this Saturday, June 26 is Midsommar for the year 2010 on the Swedish calendar. once again, this has nothing to do with endurance sports, but the media attention given to the recent wedding of Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and my blog post on the topic has made me somewhat wistful for my Swedish heritage, and so i'm particularly conscious of this coming Saturday being a uniquely Swedish highpoint of the year: Midsommar.

historically, Midsommar (or in English: midsummer) is celebrated in a number of European societies, ostensibly to mark the summer solstice when the day is longest and the night is shortest. in Sweden, however, Midsommar doesn't quite fall on the solstice--historically Swedes set it on June 24, but in 1953 set it to the Saturday between June 19 and June 26 so as to better accommodate public celebrations. these celebrations are a major event, with Midsommar in Sweden being one the biggest holidays of the year (in some ways, even bigger than Jul, Christmas, or New Year). for a very well-written summary, reference: http://www.thelocal.se/7665/

Midsommar is celebrated in a variety of ways--and which are in varying degrees traditional or modern (or, depending on who you ask, antiquated and stereotypical versus fashionable and respectable). typically, it's taken as an occasion to congregate with friends and family. it used to be marked with traditional costumes, music, and dancing, although the modern era has largely dropped those practices and instead gravitated towards other traditions connected to the holiday, like dancing around the Maypole; eating the first summer crops of potatoes, pickled herring, and strawberries; and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. younger single adults collect small bouquets of 7 (some regions of Sweden it's 9) flowers and putting them under their pillow as a charm to realize hopes of meeting future spouses.

i haven't found videos of all these practices, but i have managed to find some Youtube samples showing a range from traditional to modern Midsommar celebrations, and you can check them out below:

traditional Midsommar (likely to bring shudders to hip Swedes):
more modern Midsommar (likely to bring cheers from homesick Swedes):
anti-establishment Midsommar (likely to be the mode of edgy scenester Swedes):
i have to say i don't have many memories of any of the above kinds of midsummer celebrations. part of it is that i left Sweden when i was very young (7). more of it is that my mother just didn't really get out to these kinds of events when we were there. instead, my memories are of something very different, albeit very much a trademark (and, according to some, the centerpiece) of Midsommar: the Frog Song.

yes...the Frog Song. all Swedes know it, and i mean ALL Swedes know it--whether they are willing to admit it or not. in Swedish, it's "Små Grodorna" (literally: "small frog"). it's taught to all Swedish children. i remember it as a nursery rhyme sung to children (me among them).

it is one of the pre-requisites to any Midsommar celebration, and is denoted by everyone (and i mean EVERYONE...children, adults, dogs, cats, birds, bees, etc., regardless of disposition or dignity) gathering around the Maypole and holding hands and dancing while they sing this song, in the midst of which everyone pretends to have missing ears and proceeds to jump around just like the poor little frog in the song.

check out a sampling of videos
for the sake of thoroughness, the lyrics in Swedish are:

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se!
Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se!
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de!
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de!
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack!
kou ack ack ack ack kaa!
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack!
kou ack ack ack ack kaa!

the literal English translation is:

Small frogs, small frogs are fun to see!
Small frogs, small frogs are fun to see!
No ears, no ears, no tails they have!
No ears, no ears, no tails they have!
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack!
kou ack ack ack ack kaa!
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack!
kou ack ack ack ack kaa!

silly? maybe. bizarre? possibly. fun? absolutely! baby, you don't know the meaning of fun until you've done this jig!

seriously, i remember this song as being the ultimate height of exuberance and sheer innocent joy, made all the more wistful by the fact that everyone shed their veneers of adulthood and sobriety and daily worries, and for a few moments returned to become no more and no less than children dancing in gleeful, carefree, utterly lost abandon free of all the world's burdens. in short, i remember this song for what it means to me, and quite possibly for everyone who's ever known it: childhood, and everything that is great about it.

this is something that i have come to believe is endemic to Swedish culture, and is something that makes it so wonderful: it understands the importance of childhood, and it knows that--deep down inside, in places where the world can never reach--we are all still children.

i have to tell you, now that i've become an adult, and find myself in a world consumed by a strange self-obsession of image and look and narcissism and attitude, and self-correcting to conform to equally strange standards of dork versus weird versus hip versus cool, i sometimes find myself looking back upon my childhood and wishing that i could have it all again.

i can't help but think how much better it was then compared to what i deal with now.

because now is all about people wearing the right clothes, saying the right things,
having the right political views, worshiping the right gods, speaking the right language, living in the right neighborhood, driving the right cars, eating the right food, drinking the right drinks, getting the right haircut, spraying the right cologne, having the right body, hanging out with the right friends, and being the right guy...whereas back then it was just about being a kid, with all the other kids, with nothing more to do than holding hands and dancing around a pole in the middle of summer singing about little frogs.

silly? maybe. bizarre? possibly. fun? yes. as much as life was meant to be about fun.

which to a child, should be always.

and we are all still children.