Before I moved so far north, I didn't realize how much I would be affected each year by the two halves of it: the first half which heralds the return of the light to its zenith and the second half which is the long slow descent into darkness. It sounds depressing, but the other side is knowing that the return of the light always follows. The point of this, however, is that midsummer celebrations are not exactly a high point for me, though they're probably the best-loved holiday for every Swede on the planet. I, on the other hand, am much more excited about the solstice that falls deep in the heart of winter, which to me is a signal for hope and rebirth.
It's not that I don't appreciate the rest of the summer or the long slow days or the sunshine that we are blessed with during the rest of the growing season, it's just that I know we're moving away now, turning gradually aside, decelerating.
For Swedes, midsummer is about gathering flowers to put under your pillow (7 kinds) so that you will dream about who you will marry. It's about the red stitching of poppies on the hems of every field and the tall spikes of lupines in their star-leaved clusters. It's the raising of that old fertility symbol, the midsummer pole, wrapped in green leaves and flowers, and the dancing that follows. It's the entrenched menu that every single table boasts: herring and new potatoes, meatballs and small sausages, and sun-drenched strawberries with cream and sugar.
But most of all, it's about the light that affects them, and has affected them from birth in this northern clime, much more than it does me, a relatively recent transplant. The awareness of the light, I think, must be an integral part of their cellular make-up, much more so than blond hair and blue eyes and planed viking cheekbones. What they are celebrating, and what I am celebrating with them, is a thank you to the sun for the first half of the year, for returning and rebuilding and regrowing and lightening the way, and the appreciation of the knowledge that though it now begins to recede, it will not forsake, but come again.