It takes a certain kind of determination to get through winter in the high, northern reaches of the world. The sun bids goodbye as early as 3PM some days, not to be seen again until late into the next morning. So it’s no wonder the people of Scandinavia take summer seriously. On the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, friends, family and neighbors gather to revel in the return of light and life, the yearly ritual they call Midsummer.
Kirsten Kjaer Weis brings her favorite memories of Midsummers past to a modern-day fête with friend and photographer Jette Jørs.
MAGASINET: LET’S START WITH THE BASICS. WHAT’S THE MIDSUMMER CELEBRATION ALL ABOUT?
Kirsten Kjaer Weis: It’s a Scandinavian thing for a reason obvious to those of us who live there or are from there: Because the winters are so dark! We’re celebrating all the light that everyone’s been deprived of for months. It happens around the days of the summer solstice, the longest days of the year; Midsummer is about welcoming those long summer days.
HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
It’s just one day. It’s not a national holiday, more of a traditional yearly gathering of friends and family.
SO, WHAT GOES ON DURING A TRADITIONAL MIDSUMMER PARTY?
There are different traditions. . . each Scandinavian country has their own take on this holiday, and they’re all beautiful. I grew up in rural Denmark, surrounded by farms. Every year a a different farm would host the Midsummer party. Family, friends, neighbors would all come for a big dinner, then sing and drink around a bonfire late into the night. It brought the whole community together. I’ve also spent a few Midsummers in Sweden, in the archipelago of Stockholm. There’s dinner and a bonfire as well, but some people will wear traditional Swedish clothing. And of course, there’s the beautiful flower crowns.
ARE THE FLOWER CROWNS A LONG-STANDING TRADITION, TOO?
The flower crown is Swedish, we don’t have that. I’ve brought the crowns into my own Midsummer celebrations because they’re just so pretty and really celebrate nature.
WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MIDSUMMER MEMORIES?
When I was a kid it was all about the fire. I was mesmerized by the flames and the crackling sound of burning wood.
AS TIME HAS PASSED, HAS THE MEANING OF THIS TRADITION CHANGED FOR YOU?
I still I really love Scandinavian summer nights. I love the dusky light, it’s so poetic and people are excited to be outside. I’ve spent many Midsummers now with my close friend Jette [Jørs], out in Danish countryside on her farm. It’s the perfect setting to celebrate the long light, the change into summer - you’re surrounded by fields of wildflowers in full bloom, sweet farm animals roaming around, kids and dogs playing everywhere. It’s completely hygge. Around 7, when the sun drops ever so slightly, everyone gathers for a big sit down dinner outside. After that, during the long sunset, the bonfire is lit. Since it’s Denmark, we’ll sing traditional Midsummer songs and cap things off with fresh strawberry desserts and elderberry drinks. The party usual ends when the kids fall asleep. It’s a gorgeous celebration of nature and changing seasons.
YOU’VE BEEN BASED OUT OF NEW YORK FOR QUITE A FEW YEARS, HAVE YOU INTRODUCED YOUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES HERE TO THIS SEASONAL RITE?
Sure, I’ve thrown a few Midsummer parties for friends in past, and every year we do a Kjaer Weis Midsummer event, It’s really a great opportunity to share these traditions I really cherish. There’s nothing quite like bringing your favorite people together through food, drink and the beauty of long summer days.
Photography by Jette Jørs