Although it's Alaska that is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, Sweden and the Netherlands are a close second. In Stockholm during the month of July, the sun rises at 3:40 a.m. and does not set until after 10 p.m. Light is important to the Swedes -- and this is apparent in many of the Swedish people's holiday traditions and symbols.
The Swedish midsummer festival is one of the country's most important holidays -- some say it even rivals Christmas -- according to the Swedish Institute. Midsummer is traditionally celebrated on the longest day of the year, when the light lasts the longest, but for convenience's sake -- and so everyone can enjoy a long weekend -- it is usually celebrated on the third Friday of June. The day is celebrated with family and friends, food and drink, and singing and dancing. One dancing tradition that has lasted through the ages is the maypole dance, which is a symbol of fertility and was traditionally performed to ensure a good autumn harvest. The pole is decorated with flowers and greenery, and the dancing is performed in a circle around the pole. The maypole is probably the most visual symbol of the midsummer festival, as are the flowers that adorn it. Flowers, in fact, are such an important part of the holiday that almost everyone -- boys and men included -- wears flower wreaths on his or her head.
Halloween is a relatively young holiday in Sweden. It did not become an established holiday in the country until the 1990s, when it was adopted by children and young adults who wanted to celebrate Halloween in the same manner Americans do: with parties, candy, and costumes. As in the United States, Jack-o'-lanterns, which symbolize the lost soul of Jack the Blacksmith, are an important symbol of the holiday. Halloween quickly became popular, not in small part due to the fact that there are no holidays during the long stretch of days between midsummer and All Saints' Day, which marks the first day of winter.
Christmas in Sweden is a mixture of the old and new, and many families put their own unique twist on the celebration. The holiday extends to the new year and many families travel during this time. The day before Christmas is spent finding and decorating a Christmas tree -- and going to church that night. On Christmas, the party doesn't really get started until everyone sits down to watch a special Christmas program at 3 p.m. The program, a compilation of Disney short cartoons, has been a Swedish tradition since the 1960s. Once the program is over, families enjoy Christmas dinner, which may include ham, pork sausage and lutfisk, which is a traditional fish recipe. After dinner, Santa arrives to give out presents.
Easter in Sweden is symbolized by the color yellow, which is seen in the country's traditional Easter decorations of daffodils, feathers and chickens. There is no Easter Bunny in Sweden -- instead, it's the Easter eggs, which are given to children, that are the focus of the holiday. The eggs, which are filled with candy, symbolize new life and the resurrection of Christ. As the chicken in the egg grows, it eventually becomes fully alive and breaks free of its own tomb. Another symbol of Easter is the Påskris, which is a centerpiece made of twigs and decorated with colorful feathers and eggs. This symbolizes the tool that was traditionally used for self-flagellation on Long Friday, which Americans call Good Friday, in memory of Christ's suffering. In fact, the Swedish word for Easter -- Påsk -- is taken from this object.
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