Sweden’s Midsommar festival, which takes place on the longest day of the year, holds enough tradition and merriment to last the rest of the year. The holiday celebrates the summer solstice and the connection between nature and one’s sense of self. But in 2016, when photographer Michelle Bablitz was ready to frolic through the festivities, the maypole would not go up.
Little girls in dresses embroidered with regional patterns clustered nearby, waiting to dance around the maypole and sing silly songs. Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se. The small frogs, the small frogs are funny to see. More than 20 men dressed in heavy, traditional costumes were charged with hoisting up the maypole with wooden pikes. Yet the 20-foot, vernal crosslike monument would not lock into place.
Midsommar is a mystical holiday rooted in pagan celebrations of summer and fertility. During this time, it is said that plants magically develop healing powers and ferns bloom into flowers. Today, locals continue the tradition of weaving crowns from greenery and dotting their beards with dandelions and moon daisies. Girls still pick seven different kinds of flowers to place under their pillows so that, according to local legend, they will then dream of their future husbands.
As the afternoon wore on, the men hoisting the maypole attempted different angles to no avail. With their staunch dedication to tradition, these Swedes perfectly embodied Midsommar, a time for honoring the solstice with country charm and a reverence for folklore. Finally, after about an hour of holding the maypole half-lifted, they triumphed.
The festival marks the beginning of a five-week holiday in Sweden. Every year, Swedes vacate sleek, industrial cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg and make the drive to Enviken and other idyllic towns. They immerse themselves in fairy-tale scenes: placid lakes, enchanted forests, and grassy paths leading to crimson cottages. They wade through chest-high wildflowers and reconnect with nature, finally getting a chance to slow down and enjoy Scandinavia’s short summer. For one short window, their heads are heavy only with wreaths of flowers.
Visitors can canoe down lily-studded waters or hike the Abisko National Park before enjoying a Midsommar feast of pickled herring and boiled potatoes. They join locals in toasting to vacation with beer and schnapps, and chorus along to drinking songs that drift into the illuminated night. “Skål! Cheers!”