Next to Christmas, Midsummer is the most important celebration for the Swedes – perhaps less so for the Norwegians. In Sweden Midsommar is celebrated on the first Friday of the summer solstice. Norwegians celebrate the coming of summer on the 23rd of June every year on a day they call ‘Sankt Hans Aften’. Most bigger towns celebrate Midsummer. For a unique experience, visit the Midsummer celebration in the Jamtli Museum in Östersund (Sweden).
Dancing, eating (pickled herring, potatoes) and drinking are important ingredients for a successful Midsummer celebration. And nice weather, of course. You will usually see people wearing flowers in their hair or on their hats. Flowers are also used to decorate the maypole or Midsommarstången. The peak of the festivities sees the Swedes imitate frogs, hopping around the maypole while singing the classic tune ‘Små grodorna‘ (The small frogs).
Valborg is short for Valborgsmässoafton. It is a day of celebrations and activities around Sweden, culminating in lighting bonfires (majbrasor). Valborg is celebrated on the 30th of April each year. Valborg is a very old tradition and used to be about scaring bad spirits. Nowadays, Valborg is all about celebrating that spring has finally arrived.
National Day of Sweden
Sweden’s national day is a national holiday in Sweden on 6 June. This is the date on which Gustav Vasa was elected king in 1523, after he led an uprising to break the union between Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. It was also on the 6th of June that a new constitution was adopted in 1809. The name was changed to Swedish Flag Day in 1983 but it wasn’t until 2005 that it became an official public holiday.
Norway’s Constitution Day
Constitution Day or syttende mai (‘Seventeenth of May’) is the national day of Norway and is an official public holiday observed on 17 May each year. The Constitution of Norway was signed on 17 May 1814. The constitution declared Norway to be an independent kingdom. Nowadays the celebration is very non-military in nature. In addition to raising the flag, people typically wear red, white and blue ribbons. It is also very popular for men, women and children to wear traditional outfits, or bunad.
Olavsfestdagene is a huge religious and cultural festival held in Trondheim around Olsok (‘Olav’s Wake’ or ‘Olaf’s Vigil’, the end of July) every year. During the festival more than 300 events with 800 international and Norwegian artists are presented. Music, markets, games, exhibitions, church services, lectures and – oh yes – jousting are part of a big line-up of activities. Olavsfestdagenes is historically connected to the veneration of St. Olav. Pilgrims from many countries choose to visit Nidaros Cathedral during the festival.
The Saint Olav Drama
The Spelet om Heilag Olav is an outdoor theatre performance played every end of July in Stiklestad on Scandinavia’s largest open-air stage. The play commemorates the Battle of Stiklestad that took place in the year 1030, which resulted in death of St. Olav. The play has been staged every year since 1954. The Saint Olav Festival at Stiklestad also includes lectures, plays, concerts and a medieval fair with traditional foods, handicrafts and activities. Not to be missed when you are in the Stiklestad vicinity in July!