In the North the winters are cold, long, and dark. When winter ends it’s definitely a time to celebrate.
Summer, on the other hand, is especially sweet with long summer days. The sun yawning late into the evening. The lupine blooming in royal purples and soft pinks. The smell of leafy birch trees coming into full foliage. And warmth, finally warmth.
Throughout the Nordic countries the arrival of summer has been celebrated for centuries as a time to enjoy. Midsummer has roots in the ancient traditions of summer solstice. Later iterations of the day were also celebrated as a Christianized holiday, The Feast of St. John’s Day.
The start of summer has many names depending on where you are celebrating:
- In Sweden it is Midsommar
- In Norway it is Midtsommer
- In Finland it is Juhannus (Finnish for John, after John the Baptist)
- In Iceland it is Jónsmessa (Icelandic for John, after John the Baptist)
And a few other variations in other countries. Yet, the practice and traditions are often very similar.
Enjoying the outdoors.
Enjoying good food and drink.
Enjoying time with loved ones.
Here are some Midsummer traditions we especially love that you might be interested in adding to your summer.
1. Food to delight
New potatoes, fresh local fish, and generous helpings of dill are often found on the Midsummer table. Think fresh and hearty flavors. It’s a brilliant combination that the Nordic cuisine has nearly perfected.
For a traditional midsummer meal, we love this amazing spread. It will surely get your imagination turning and mouth watering.
We’d be hard pressed not to point you over to one of our favorites Scandinavian food authors, Beatrice Ojakanga. A local of Duluth, MN, Bea is an award winning recipe book author for many decades her recipes often find their way to our tables. She’s literally written the book on Scandinavian Cooking (along with 30 other books on the subject).
2. Drinks to refresh
Continuing with the desire for a seasonal flavor pallet summer comes to refresh. One spirit that we love is the Scandinavia equivalent to Gin, Aquavit. Literally translated: “The Water of Life.” Our favorite comes from our friends at Vikre Distillery here in Duluth, MN. Their award winning Øvrevann Aquavit is an essential in our bar cart at home. Øvrevann, Norwegian for Upper Lake, or Lake Superior. It is quite literally the spirit of our home.
Aquavit tonics have a special place in our heart this time of year.
The Midsummer Aquavit Tonic
- In a shaker muddle some local rhubarb stalks, chopped.
- 1 oz. Rhubarb Honey Schrub from Clover Valley Farms
- 1.5 oz. Øvrevann Aquavit from Vikre Distillery
- Add ice and shake
- Pour over ice in a tall collins glass
- Add tonic water to top of glass
- Garnish with Rhubarb stalk to stir
3. Flower Crowns to Adorn
There is just something about summer that screams: “Put flowers in your hair!” And the Nordics have found some perfect combinations. Blooming beautifully in early spring are lupines and daisies. Simply weaving these into a small wreath provides a simple, yet, gorgeous addition for your midsummer revelry. This is especially fun with kids. Go find the wild flowers and have fun.
4. Midsummer Sauna to Soothe
Of course, Sauna is a tradition for midsummer. Long summer nights. Plus, cool evening breezes make it ideal for soothing saunas. Especially with a lake or river to dip into that hasn’t warmed up to full summer temperatures just yet. The midsummer sauna is perfect in every way.
Often enjoyed at cabins and lake properties, these saunas are communal gatherings with family or loved ones.
One addition to the sauna experience that is common around midsummer is the addition of the Birch whisk. In Finland this is called a Vihta or Vasta depending on the region. The time of year is common for harvesting these whisks as the leaves on the birch are small, and the branches are still flexible.
One addition to the sauna experience that is common around midsummer is the addition of the Birch whisk.
These whisks are added to the sauna experience creating a birch aroma when steeped into water that will be thrown onto the rocks for steam.
Then when the whisk is warm and soaked it is used to whisk, massage, and smack the body to increase circulation to the skin. In short, it’s a sauna circulation accelerator, and just a bunch of foresty fun.
However you decide to celebrate the arrival of summer we hope you savor every minute of the longest day of the year.