Is Midsummer really that creepy?

​How does real-life Midsummer in Sweden compare to the American horror film?

A creepy Midsummer celebration is depicted in the movie Midsommar from 2019. Photo: Nordisk Film

Last summer, director Ari Aster released a folk-horror/break up movie called Midsommar. The film centres on Dani (played by Florence Pugh), who goes to Sweden with her boyfriend and their Swedish friend to his hometown commune in Hårga for a very special Midsummer c​elebration. Now before going any further, this blog will contain some spoilers for the movie, so you should stop reading here and watch the movie now if you haven’t seen it yet. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you’ve watched the movie or read the Wikipedia page for the plot​, and then watched an episode of something funny to recover from what you’ve seen, I’ll continue.

There is a lot of symbolism and traditions depicted in Midsommar, some of them real, some taken from various unrelated rituals. So which ones are real and which ones have been made up? Let’s start with the big one: The movie depicts many deaths, with various levels of grossness.

1. Do I need to be worried about that if I’m invited to a Midsummer celebration?
Not at all. You can rest easy, because the real Midsummer features much less ritual sacrifice, generally none if you pick the right people to celebrate with! 😉 These parts of the movie seem to be taken from Pagan traditions and are not related to the way Swedes celebrate Midsummer.

2. Do people really dance around a giant pole until they fall down from exhaustion?
Yes and no! Maypoles are a real tradition you could see at Midsummer! And people do dance around them, for example, you might hear the singing of Små Grodorna (The Small Frogs) with an accompanying dance. In the movie, Dani joins other women from the commune in a hallucinogenic dance marathon around a maypole. You probably won’t see people dance until they drop, but this comes from a legend from Hårga (Yes, it’s a real place, but it’s not a commune!). There is a folk song associated with the town called Hårgalåten, where the devil forced the townspeople to dance to death, but this is not associated with the real Midsummer celebration.

3. Do swedes put flowers in their hair on Midsummer? 
They do! when it comes time to dance around the maypole, the Hårgas and Dani wear large flower crowns with various different flowers, and later Dani wears a huge flower dress when she becomes the May Queen and finds herself feeling a sense of community for the first time in the movie. While the elaborate dress and the May Queen isn’t something you would normally see at a Midsummer celebration, you will probably see flower crowns, and maybe you can even make your own!

4. Are you really supposed to put flowers under your pillow on Midsummer? 
Yes! There’s a short scene where the girls are seen picking flowers in the movie. Dani does this and gives a bouquet to her boyfriend Christian. This is taken from a real tradition, where you are supposed to pick seven different kinds of flowers and put them underneath your pillow so that you’ll dream about your future spouse.

There’s a lot of other symbolism throughout the movie (Did you see all the runes? And the tapestry in the first scene?), you can watch it again if you missed these details the first time. One of the things I find most discomforting about the movie is how beautiful the scenery is compared to the horrifying actions of the Hårgas, especially from the climactic scene through the end.

But be assured, the beauty of nature and fun of the celebration is the only thing you should expect. I hope this leaves you feeling prepared and only a little bit nervous to celebrate a real Swedish Midsummer!

Author: Amanda​

Page manager Published: Thu 10 Feb 2022.