Midsommer is the Scandinavian celebration of the summer solstice, which marks the end of long, dark winter months. Referred to as Sankthansaften, or Saint John’s Eve, Norwegians and Danes alike ring in the summer on June 23rd each year.
This tradition is alive well for the Norwegian population living in the Pacific Northwest. Each year around the solstice, families make the trek to the Leif Erickson Lodge at Norway Park – a lakeside campground and pavilion owned by the Sons of Norway – to spend the weekend welcoming the warm summer months. Members can rent cabins, bring their campers, or pitch their tents along the perimeter of the massive, grass-covered field and enjoy all the amenities the park has to offer. Lucky for me, I have gracious friends who invited me to Norway Park to celebrate Midsommer with them.
The solstice in Europe is often marked by the maypole, which varies on décor and design depending on the region. In Norway, the maypole is an upright wooden pole with a perpendicular piece of wood near the top, which has a hanging ring on either end. Some folklorists say its reminiscent of the cross while others believe it’s meant to symbolize fertility.
Although the maypole was absent at the park, the day was still chock-full of tradition. Families trickled down to the park and the sandy stretch of sand along the lake late in the morning on Saturday, and around noon, families gathered in the park to start the games. Tug-o-war, sack races, three-legged races, the wheelbarrow race, and the water balloon toss – both little kids and big kids alike joined in for the friendly competition with longtime friends and family.
The festivities continued afterward in the pavilion where folks bought tickets for the cake walk (my friends kiddos cleaned house!) or played rounds of bingo. And as the day heated up, people headed to the lake for a dip or a cruise on a paddle board.
Hungry bellies rumbled in the early evening and our friends migrated back to the campsite where we feasted on grilled chicken and burgers, Caesar salad, and fruit. I even tried pickled herring; after an initial ack factor, I actually thought it wasn’t half bad! As the sun went down, families broke out footballs and whiffle ball bats for spur-of-the-moment games.
As with Norwegian tradition, Midsommer wouldn’t be complete without a heaping bonfire illuminating the summer night. Branches from the park are collected year-round in preparation for the blaze, and people gather ’round to bask in its warmth.
From an outsider’s perspective, Midsommer isn’t just about celebrating the solstice, but an extension of Norwegian life in the Pacific Northwest. It was the blending of heritage, family, and friends. Of old traditions and new. I’m so grateful for a glimpse into this awesome celebration!
Happy summer all!