In Scandinavia, Solstice Means Fun in the Midnight Sun

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Regional Differences

Midsummer traditions differ from region to region, Schueman noted. Singing and dancing around a maypole are particularly popular in Sweden.

"They sing song-dances, the kind of songs that tell you what to do," she said. "There're lots of them, and people learn them as little kids."

Rees at the University of Oregon, meanwhile, pointed out that Norwegians celebrate midsummer with bonfires on the beach. Traditionally the fires were meant to protect revelers from evil spirits and witches, she said. Today people in Finland, Denmark, and northern Sweden still party by bonfire on Midsummer Eve.

Excuse to Party

Many of the midsummer fertility traditions have been forgotten or put aside, according to the University of Maryland's Oster. "When I say fertility, you have to go back to a time when crops [and] your survival were dependent on what happened in nature," she said.

Today, Midsummer Festival serves mainly as a good excuse to party, especially if the weather is favorable.

But Scandinavians still recognize the solstice as a special time of year to be outdoors, Rees said. Modern festivals still feature the traditional bonfires, she noted, but now the fires serve primarily as gathering points for drinking beer and eating hot dogs.

"It's light around the clock that day," she said of the solstice. "The focus is on being outside and enjoying the sun. People aren't really thinking about pre-Christian fertility rituals—they're thinking about the light, about being outside, and being with nature."

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