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A midsummer story


One of our club members invited an English friend for the midsummer celebration in Leksand. This is his story (also published in The Sunday Times).

By Jim Keeble

I came to Siljan knowing little about Sweden, and nothing about herring.

“I don’t really like fish,” I explained.
My hosts looked at me as if I’d just urinated on the Swedish flag.
“That is unfortunate,” they said. On the table were ten different forms of herring - from garlic to honey-mustard. There was only one thing for it. I downed a glass of snaps, picked the least smelly fish, and swallowed.
“It’s traditional,” they smiled.
I nodded. It would have to be.

Ever since I was a child in England I’ve wanted to experience a Swedish midsummer. I blame it on Anna, our Swedish nanny who told stories of ‘the land of the midnight sun’, of maypoles, old-style costumes and dancing through the night. To a four year old it seemed like the best place on earth.

Thirty years later, I decided to see for myself. I was instantly entranced. Coming from the congested streets and tiny countryside of England, the Dalarna region seemed like the New World. I couldn’t believe I was in Europe. There were small pretty red-clad villages amidst thick forests, lofty hills and sparkling lakes. It looked like a mini-Canada, only everyone spoke better English.

The weather was warm, about eighty degrees (I think I’d half-expected snow). Everyone was outside in their gardens.


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Raising the Maypole

Swedish ‘Midsommer’, as far as I could tell, is similar to America’s Independence Day – families reunite, neighbours cross the fence, everyone flies flags, and men spend hours cutting their lawns. But thankfully the Swedes eat fewer hamburgers, and Beska Droppar is definitely a more interesting tipple than Budweiser.

I joined the entire village of Tibble for their maypole raising ceremony. It was just like my childhood dream – wonderful old costumes, violin music and dancing. Children, parents, couples and 33 year old guys from England laughed, hugged and chatted. The sense of community was acute – soon I knew more people in Tibble than in my street in London, where I’ve lived for six years.

I was greeted into people’s homes like a long-lost relative. I drank more snaps than Boris Yeltsin. I listened to home-made music until dawn, except there wasn’t any dawn. Nanny Anna was right - the sun doesn’t set.

The biggest maypole celebration was in Leksand. 20,000 people turned up. The excitement was huge as the 30m pole was gradually heaved upwards. We all shouted our encouragement, cheering like fanatics as the pole finally stood upright. Then we danced like dervishes, 5,000 of us, round and round the maypole.

 

 

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Lots of traditional clothing and folk music during midsummer celebration

I vaguely remember getting back to my hotel about four in the morning, the sun still a faint glow along the crest of hills.

As I stood, breathing in the clean sweet air, I thought that Dalarna does indeed seem like the best place on earth. Apart, that is, from the herring.

//

Uppdaterad: 08 JUN 2016 02:37

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