What Midsommar Gets Wrong About The Pagan Holiday

PHoto: SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images.
This summer's cult horror film, Midsommar, will make your wildest group vacations or music festival plans look tame. The movie, which is made by the same director as Hereditary, takes place at a Midsummer Festival in Sweden that's described in the trailer as "sort of a crazy festival, with special ceremonies and dressing up."
Without spoiling too much about the plot, things turn dark for the couple Dani (played by Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). The festival actually ends up being rather culty, and the visitors aren't safe. In fact, they're trapped in the perpetually sunny field where it takes place, which is way scarier than it sounds.
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So, is this festival a real thing that you can experience in Sweden? And is it as lit and culty as they make it seem in Midsommar? Midsummer Festival is a very real thing, but it isn't scary at all — in fact, it's a joyous holiday that rivals Christmas in Scandinavian countries.
Back in the day, Midsummer Festival was practiced as a pagan holiday that commemorates the arrival of summer and the longest day of the year, explains Lori Fredrickson, communication and outreach manager at the American-Scandinavian Foundation. "After Catholicism, it kind of got merged in with a celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist," she says. "So, that is the religious significance behind it." Nowadays, Midsummer Festival is all about nature and "the coming of light," explains Yvonne Ericson, a visitor services associate at the American-Scandinavian Foundation. Many far-flung Swedes will travel home for the special festivities.
The most easily identifiable symbol of Midsummer Festival is probably the maypole, which is a massive pole that's decorated with flowers. Typically maypoles are erected around May Day (hence the name), but it takes longer for spring to come in Sweden, so they wait until Midsummer Festival, Fredrickson says. "It makes [the maypole] this important celebration of nature," she says.
People are invited to adorn the maypole with all kinds of greenery, and there are choreographed dances and other games that take place around the maypole. "Swedes are really insane about a dance called Små grodorna, which means little frogs," Ericson says. "You see adults, elderly people, and small children all jumping around, so it's totally goofy and that's why everybody loves it." While some people will drink a lot of alcohol at Midsummer Festivals, for the most part, they're very tame.
In terms of clothing and Midsummer Festival garb, flower crowns are the hottest festival accessory. "That time of year, the wild flowers in Sweden are at their peak and the most beautiful," Fredrickson says. People will get artsy and weave them into beautiful wreaths and arrangements. Flowers also play a part in a Midsummer tradition for young women. "If you're a single young woman, you pick seven flowers and put them under your pillow," Ericson says. "That way your future husband will appear in a dream."
That's about as ritualistic as Midsummer Festival gets. If you want to observe Midsummer, the good news is you don't have to fly to Sweden to experience it; there are lots of local Midsummer Festivals held all around the United States. And if you're not satisfied with the extent of your Midsummer festivities, you can always go see the movie — though don't expect the same celebratory summer vibe as a real Midsummer event.
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