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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Midsommar 2009

Another midsommar eve has passed and today is midsommar day. Tomorrow, June 21 marks the summer solstice...the longest day of the year. While many long days follow the solstice, I always feel a little bit sad that we're no longer growing in daylight hours. The thought that the days are actually getting shorter is too much to bear, especially when, like this year, we've had lots of rain and clouds making the long days, dark. But, our annual celebration of the long and wonderful days of summer light has come and gone once again with a great deal of laughter and joy. We held to tradition and made our way down to where our good friends, Hannah and Sven (yes Sven of the Ph.D. blog) have their summer home. The number of years that we have done this escapes me but suffice to say that maintaining a tradition such as this is good for one's soul. We love to be with their kids as well and feel very much like this is our family place.
It is quite fun to celebrate midsommar in a small Swedish village. You get such a good taste of a real Swedish midsommar, more so than experiencing the huge festivals that are held all around Sweden. It's fun to see the big production once but to really celebrate, you need a stuga and a small village! Thanks to Hannah and Sven's incredible generosity and hospitality we have both. This year, the Internationals on the scene made such a splash that the local reporter ended up interviewing me and doing a story on how so many Internationals landed in such a small place like . The article is in Swedish. Scroll through the photos on the right. I'm the one in the sunglasses and gray shirt!
Of course, through the years we have developed a few of our own traditions. Last year we made the shift from going to the larger celebration a few kilometers down the road to the one in the center of town, a mere 5 minute walk from the stuga. All have come to appreciate the simple joy of the village celebration. The midsommar pole goes up all decorated in birch and wild flowers and the town elder grabs his accordion and starts hammering out the songs that the Swedes have been singing since birth. They are such silly songs that discuss small frogs and pigs along with references to daily chores. And yet, young and old alike grab hands and dance around the
pole. A fan favorite is the Sleeping Bear where several people lie face down and when the music stops, they jump up and chase someone else to come be a bear with them. This goes on until everyone is a bear! Our friend Sven is one of the most enthusiastic. He delights us all with his joy. Free ice cream awaits us when the festivities are over.
From there we make our way back to the stuga where the dance of the table begins. Do we eat inside or outside? Weather is a constant discussion point as it ALWAYS rains on midsommar. One minute it's sunny, the next it's pouring. We had decided on putting the table outside and as soon as we began to set the table, it began to pour. Thus the table moved indoors yet again. Just as we sat down to eat however the sun was shining brightly on the garden! But, alas, after deciding to take dessert in the yard, it began to rain once again! Good thing we were in. We were dry and happy as we toasted and feasted.
Hannah works hard at the meal with help from her daughters and in the end a feast is enjoyed. The centerpiece of the meal is gravad lax (cured raw salmon), a dish that Sven savors and enjoys more than anyone I've ever seen! The delicious mustard sauce that accompanies is more to my taste. In homage to Hannah's work and to Swedish culture I always have one piece of gravad lax drenched in mustard sauce even though in reality, I can't stand the stuff!
One tradition that I love perhaps more than others is one that has been created by our International gathering. Doug and I are always invited as part of the regular suspects, but each year they also invite one or two other internationals so that they can experience the joy of this holiday. So, we always end up with a mini-United Nations around the table. This year we had the presence of Sweden, Ghana, Britain, Holland, USA, Ethiopia and Japan. It has become our custom towards the end of the meal to have each nation's representatives stand and sing their National Anthem. It is always rousing and hilarious although I must say that the Japanese couple sang their most beautiful anthem with great dignity. Much toasting and revelry follows each rendition.
Speeches are given, food is eaten, Vodka is drunk, wine is consumed, and we end up sharing in the joy of family and friendship. This year a very special connection was found around the table. Hannah (who is from Ghana) has a niece who is studying the United States. You'll just never guess where this bright young woman from Ghana is studying. At a small college in Galesburg, Illinois called Knox College. Why is this significant? Because the maternal side of my family is from Galesburg! She couldn't believe that not only had I heard of Knox, I had been to Galesburg several times and was deeply connected to that little place! CRAZY. She is in Sweden for the summer after studying in Denmark this past semester. She returns to Galesburg in August! She will graduate from Knox next spring and hopes to go onto medical school. So as I got to thinking about how close we feel to Hannah and Sven and their kids, and how really, of all the people we know in Sweden, they are the ones who feel most like family to us, an amazing truth dawned on me. Around this midsommar table, in the tiny little village of