Swedish Language Blog

Midsummer’s Eve Posted by on Jun 20, 2008 in Culture

It’s that time of the year again when the entire Sweden goes outside to sing, dance, drink and celebrate the arrival of summer. Yep, it’s Midsommarafton (Midsummer’s Eve) today. Regardless of the actual day of the summer solstice, the holiday is always scheduled for Friday-Saturday between June 19th and 25th.

On Midsummer’s Eve businesses close early and people rush home. It’s time to raise the maypole! The big celebrations, which in my town are organized in an open-air museum, are taken very seriously. After all, Midsommar is the most important holiday of the Swedish calendar.

As an outsider, I find it a curious holiday to observe. Seeing people decked out in their folk costumes, with flowers garlands in their hair, hopping around the maypole doing the “Frog dance” (Små grodorna dans) makes me giggle. The maypole itself with its pagan phallic symbolism makes me giggle.
“Yeah, we have maypoles in England,” you may say. True, but you simply can’t compare the puny little British stick with its proper Swedish equivalent. See what I mean? Ahem, ahem…

And because you can’t have Midsommar without traditional food, it’s also the perfect time to load up on fresh potatoes (with dill, naturally), pickled herring (not as bad as it sounds), sour cream, and strawberries. And don’t forget snaps. It wouldn’t be Midsommar without snaps. That of course means lots of song singing, with every song demanding a round of snaps.

A few years ago IKEA made a series of Midsommar themed TV commercials for the German market poking fun at this typically Swedish celebration. Needless to say, these ads were very quickly banned and never made it into broadcast.

The festivities in my town are not as rowdy as those envisioned by IKEA (simply because it’s a university town and most students are already gone for the summer), and instead the focus is on heritage and tradition. There’s much flatbread baking (typical in this part of Sweden), fiddle playing, and tradition folk costume wearing. But no matter how sophisticated the celebrations, the “frog song” must be sung and the “frog dance” MUST be performed.

Here are the lyrics in Swedish and English:

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de.

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.

English translation:

The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to watch.
The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to watch.
No ears, no ears no tails do they have.
No ears, no ears no tails do they have.

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack,
kou ack ack ack ack kaa.

Now imagine grown men, women, and children of all ages hopping around a huge green “you-know-what-I-mean” symbol and singing “kou ack ack ack kaa…” No wonder foreigners think Swedes are a little bit weird.

Here’s a vocabulary list for your Midsommar meal:

Potatis – potatoes
Inlagd sill – pickled herring
Gräddfil – sour cream
Dill – dill
Jordgubbar – strawberries
And of course snaps.

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  1. Grazyna:

    Fantastic article, Anna:) Both your blogs are interesting!:)

  2. Teresa:

    I have been living in Stockholm for over a year and still find it impossible to learn this language…! As your blog is so great with swedish info, do you have any for this crazy thing of abreviations that the Swedish have??
    As much as I try it’s a nightmare to understand what all these abreviations mean (eg pga, like you metioned and zillions more..)

  3. Anna:

    if you want I can prepare a post with all these abbreviations that bother you 😉 Give me a few days, ok?

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