Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 15, 2005
I awoke with a start. From the light streaming through the windows, I guessed it was 9 in the morning. I looked at the clock - it was only 4:30 a.m.! How could that be? I blinked and looked again. Then I remembered. We were in Sweden, the land of the midnight sun - at least in summer.
Mom, my sister, my two nieces Gabriela and Larisa, and I had arrived in Sweden the day before. Mom is 100 percent Swedish and the purpose of our trip was to see where our Karlberg and Moström relatives had come from and to renew contact with them.
We had decided to leave touring Stockholm, the capital, for the end of our trip. So after arriving at Arlanda Airport, collecting our luggage and claiming a rental car, we set off for Gävle, a town about the size of Manhattan. A distant relative, who was on vacation in Bulgaria, had kindly offered his home for this part of the adventure and we eagerly accepted.
After getting a few more hours of sleep, we went with Sally, one of our Moström relatives, to the local Midsummer Eve festival. We were among the first to arrive at the park. A maypole made of one tall vertical pole and a smaller crossing it was lying on the ground. It was wound from top to bottom with greenery. Two wreaths hung from the cross pole.
Several women attired in colorful, elaborately embroidered dresses - some in Sweden's blue and yellow national costume - had gathered wild flowers along the fringes of the park and twisted them into the wreaths. Children followed their lead, bringing huge bunches of Queen Anne's lace and purple and yellow flowers. Many of the women and girls had flower wreaths in their hair. Men in short pants, shirts with billowy sleeves, suspenders and vests helped with preparations. As the maypole was being decorated, musicians set up loudspeakers and microphones.
Soon people started arriving at the park, bringing their blankets, lawn chairs, picnic baskets and dogs. The weather couldn't have been more magnificent. Sally told us it was the first time in 15 years that the weather had cooperated. In past years, rain and wind had put a damper on the festivities.
Precisely at 1 p.m., announcements were made in Swedish and some of the men raised the maypole in the middle of the park. Accordions, guitars, violins, violas and a special Swedish instrument called a nyckelharpa (key fiddle) joined with the voices of a choral group to begin the program of folk music and dancing. My nieces joined in the fun. Even though they didn't understand the instructions, the folk dancers guided them along in the merrymaking.
After the program, Sally told Gabriela and Larisa that they should find seven different types of flowers and put them under their pillows that night. Swedish lore says girls will see their future husbands in their dreams if they do this.
Then Sally took us to her home, where she served traditional midsummer foods - pickled herring, meatballs, boiled potatoes with dill sauce, hard-boiled eggs, hard Swedish bread and, for dessert, a cake piled high with strawberries and whipped cream. It wasn't just the weather that was magnificent!
After we had eaten, a reporter and photographer from the Gävle Dag Blad (Daily Blade) came to the house to interview us. Sally explained that it was somewhat unusual for Americans to go to smaller towns in Sweden unless they were there on business, so the journalists wanted to talk to us and take our picture. Sofia, the reporter, quizzed us about why we had come to Sweden, how Sally and we were related, where we were from and how we liked the midsummer celebration.
It had been a wonderful and full day. Midsummer is a time for the Swedes to celebrate the height of their country's growing season and to enjoy the company of family and friends.
And I was glad to join the festivities in the land of my ancestors.
Maypole celebrants in the left photo include nieces Larisa and Gabriela (center). Distant Moström
relative Sally (right) served traditional Swedish foods, including a delicious strawberry-topped cake.