One of the benefits of having friends to visit when you go on these trips is that you get included in family events. We enjoyed that privilege in both Sweden and England.
The big summer holiday in Sweden is Midsummer, which is something of a floating holiday these days, sort of like Veterans Day has become here in the US. Everyone knows that it happens on a specific date (in the case of Midsummer, on the summer solstice) but you celebrate it when you’ve got time, generally toward a weekend.
We went to Sweden in 2004 and spent Midsummer at a huge outdoor festival near Stockholm, which was a lot of fun. This year Midsummer fell during our time at Hasselbacka, in western Sweden, so we got to see it from the other end of the spectrum.
In the afternoon all 17 of us at Hasselbacka piled into various cars and headed down the road to the nearby little village of Sillerud. This is the first thing I saw of Sillerud when I got out of the car:
There are many explanations for what could be happening here, most of which do not provide any comfort. When you are in a foreign country, there are definitely some times when you find it more foreign than others.
Sillerud is a small place, and if you park on the road and go up the hill they have what amounts to a sort of living history museum where a number of old-fashioned buildings have been preserved. It’s a sort of park now, from what I could tell.
We got there during the preliminary part of the day and thus had time to wander around the buildings - an old house, a flaxing room, and so on – and check out the various attractions. There was also a man selling hot dogs, which it turned out we couldn’t buy because the ATM I had found in the airport had given me only SEK 500 bills. It was kind of like going to an American flea market and handing out Benjamins. Moa paid for our first hot dogs, and eventually the man accumulated enough change (and we accumulated enough things we wanted to buy in addition to hot dogs) that we could pay for our own stuff.
At some kind of pre-arranged signal, everyone gathered around the Midsummer Pole, which is a triangle roughly eight feet on the base and four feet high, with a two-foot diameter ring dangling from each end and the whole thing mounted on a twelve-foot high pole and covered with greenery. A couple of musicians parked themselves in the center and most of the hundred or so people in attendance formed a circle around them.
There followed a number of dances involving circling to the left and right, jumping up and down, making odd hand motions, and generally being silly in traditional ways.
After a while the musicians declared that they were done and we all went back to our picnic tables to eat. We also took the opportunity to have photos taken at the Midsummer pole.
We then adjourned back to Hasselbacka for the next phase of the holiday. Like most holiday celebrations the world over, this involved food, drink, and conversation.
The way it works is that you sit there among your friends and family, working your way through the vast quantities of food that are put before you, and every so often someone will begin to sing a song – generally short and punchy – after which you down a shot of aquavit or vodka. Or wine. Whatever. The singing gradually gets more enthusiastic as you go.
Eventually we packed it all away and it was sauna time, after which we hung out at the cottage and had a good time. It was a very nice way to spend a holiday.
In England, the school year goes much later than it does in the US. Here in Our Little Town, the girls were out of school on June 8 and this struck people as being rather on the late side. Ginny and Magnus had their last day of school almost a full month later, on July 7, and we got to go see the place.
They go to what in the US would be called a private school but is called a public school in the UK. Public schools are called something else. England and America are, as George Bernard Shaw once said, two countries separated by the same language. But it’s a lovely school. The grounds are green and expansive, and the main building is a giant Tudor structure that might well be original for all I know.
We got the brief tour of the building, and then we settled in for the main event – the last day of school is Prizegiving Day.
The thing about British schools is that they don’t seem to have been infected with the American virus that says “everyone gets a prize of some sort.” I found this refreshing, actually. Prizes are there to be won, by effort and by standing out from the common herd – not just for showing up. So there is a fair amount of anticipation among the students on this day, because they know that only a few of them will be going home with hardware.
And it turned out that both Magnus and Ginny won.
Ginny won one of the prizes given out for her year, though unfortunately I forgot to write down which one. There were only a couple of them, so it was an honor in any case.
And Magnus won the big math prize.
It’s actually quite a large trophy, when you get up close – and not held together by anything other than gravity, so you have to be careful when you handle it.
Afterward there was a very nice reception on the grounds. This was largely geared toward the adults, with wines and other refreshments. The kids spent most of the time careening wildly down the nearby hill.
At the bottom there were treats, but really – how much incentive do you have to give kids to run down a grassy hill on the last day of school?