Horror fans are anticipating July 3’s release of Midsommar, a creepy thriller in which two American tourists (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) experience the little-seen traditions of Sweden’s Midsummer Festival. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Ari Aster called the movie's Midsummer “a particularly special iteration of the festival,” and the film certainly takes liberties with the real experience, which is far from terrifying. Take a look at how locals actually celebrate this annual gathering and why it’s become a such a treasured part of Swedish culture.
1. Midsummer started as a way to welcome summer (and maybe fertility).
Sweden has been celebrating Midsummer (midsommar in Swedish) for centuries. The event, which is typically held on the Friday after the summer solstice, is intended to recognize the beginning of the country’s summer and its five-week annual holiday, including a stretch of time where, in the northern part of the country, the sun never actually sets. Most Swedish cities have their own Midsummer event, and many are marked by dancing around a flower-covered maypole, which some have interpreted as a representation of fertility (however, others argue that no explicit connection has been found between the two).
2. During Midsummer, city streets can be empty.
Midsummer’s one concession to appearing spooky: Because celebrations take place in the countryside, most residents head out of town for the festivities beginning on Midsummer’s Eve, leaving their cities almost devoid of people. Businesses shut down and roads are cleared. That eerie serenity is broken as soon as you hit the main thoroughfares, which are typically congested with cars looking to get to the country.
3. Midsummer revelers pick flowers to find true love.
During Midsummer, both men and women participate in a tradition: They pick seven different species of flowers and put them under their pillow. Legend has it that their future spouse will appear to them in a dream. Due to the romance of the festival, Sweden experiences quite the uptick in its population. According to CNN, many children are born exactly nine months following the celebration.
4. During Midsummer, the drink of choice is aquavit.
Traditionally, Midsummer revelers eat potatoes, pickled herring, and strawberries for lunch, and they typically imbibe on beer and aquavit, a spirit distilled from potatoes or grains and flavored with either caraway or dillseed. There’s no masking the taste, either. People usually drink it straight (though chasing it with a beer isn’t unheard of). Wine and other beverages are rare sights.
5. Some Midsummer attendees wear traditional clothing.
Revelers in Sweden typically attend Midsummer parties in casual or garden party-type clothing. But some make an effort to wear the traditional folk dress, or folkdrekten, of their region. In Småland, women wear white lace blouses and ankle-length skirts; men wear blue vests and elk skin pants. Participants make their own flower crowns, or krans.
6. Midsummer has a classic song about frogs.
There is a significant amount of singing that goes into Midsummer. One traditional song is "Små Grodorna," or "Little Frogs." Partygoers sing the lyrics ("the little frogs … are funny to observe") while dancing around the maypole and pretending to hop around like amphibians. If you’re a tourist and are invited to join in, you probably should.
7. Even IKEA celebrates Midsummer.
Swedish furniture firm IKEA doesn’t let Midsummer go by unnoticed. Each year, stores will often lay out a Midsummer Smorgasbord for customers. The all-you-can-eat buffet runs $16.99 ($4.99 for kids) and features trademark Midsummer dishes like herring, potato salad, and fresh strawberries.