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In the UK, we tend to celebrate the arrival of summer with a BBQ in the back garden, or perhaps a trip to the local beer garden. In the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Iceland, the beginning of the warmer season is marked by a range of festivals and traditions, ranging from the ancient to the contemporay. Here's our list of Scandinavian summer celebrations no to miss.
Perhaps the most famous of all of these traditions is Midsummer, which takes place throughout Sweden in mid-June. In the south of the country, the sun only sets for an hour or two, and in the north, it doesn't set at all. Midsummer occurs on a Friday between 19th and 25thJune, and large groups of family and friends will come together to create maypoles covered with flowers and take part in traditional dancing.
As with any real celebration, Midsummer involves plenty of food and feasting. A typical menu will include boiled potatoes, pickled herring with fresh dill, as well as salmon and vegetables. This might be followed by a dessert of cream and the first strawberries of the summer. Plenty of beer and schnapps are consumed on Midsummer, usually accompanied by raucous drinking songs and plenty of outdoor dancing.
Jónsmessa is Iceland's version of Midsummer and is celebrated on the 24th of June, the longest day of the year. This tradition dates back to the Viking Icelandic times. Around this time, the midnight sun is at its most striking, with darkness sometimes lasting for just 3-4 hours. Icelanders celebrate with music and bonfires.
Jónsmessa is said to take its name from St John the Baptist, although the customs and celebrations of this night are much more superstitious than religious. On Jónsmessa, it’s said that cows gain the power of speech and seals take on a human form. It’s also believed that if you roll naked in the dew on Jónsmessa, your every ailment will be cured.
Every year, Norwegians celebrate the signing of the constitution in 1814. While not strictly a summer celebration, Norwegian Constitution Day (also known as syttende mai) is always held on May 17th and marks the beginning of the summer events calendar in Norway. To celebrate the day, children's parades take place across the country, as well as marching bands and the wearing of traditional costumes. In Oslo, the royal family come out to watch the festivities.
It's also custom to eat plenty of ice cream on syttende mai, as well as hot dogs and beer. For the children, games and speeches are held in schools. For the grown-ups, the day usually begins with friends and family coming together to enjoy a potluck breakfast of smoked salmon, eggs and bread. And, of course, champagne.
The first festival of a packed summer calendar for Norway begins with Festspillene i Bergen, in the last weeks of May and the beginning of June. This festival of contemporary music, art and theatre has been held in Bergen since 1953, making it the longest standing festival in Norway. It’s also one of the biggest, with 400 events taking place in 70 venues over 15 days.
Attend Festspillene i Bergen to discover classical music, thought-provoking theatre and awe-inspiring dance. With over 100,000 visitors attending the festival each year, the electric atmosphere is impressive to behold.
August and September in Sweden mark crayfish season, and the end of summer. Crayfish parties, known in Swedish as kraftskiva, see Swedish families and friends coming together to enjoy these tasty delicacies outdoors in the fresh air. As a result, there is a huge demand for crayfish, and they’re often imported from other countries, but the Swedish crayfish is seen as superior.
Crayfish parties also involve the stringing up of colourful paper lanterns. Crayfish are eaten cold and with your hands – and half of the fun is working out exactly how to get to the meat. Even if you can’t quite figure it out, there’s still plenty to enjoy; accompaniments usually include strong cheeses, bread, beer and schnapps.
Experience some of Scandinavia’s vibrant cultural traditions for yourself on one of our northern European cruises.
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