A few weeks ago, on June 6, Swedes celebrated their national day, in remembrance of both Gustav Vasa being elected king on this date in 1523 and the adoption of the Constitution of 1809, establishing the constitutional monarchy. If you ask a Swede, however, it seems an even bigger celebration is actually Midsommarafton (Midsummer’s Eve), on par with the Norwegian celebration of their national day (Syttende Mai). Since 1953, it has been celebrated with a three-day weekend when the Midsommardag (Midsummer Day) holiday moved from June 23 (the name day of Johannes, the Swedish name for John the Baptist) to a Saturday to fall between June 20 and June 26.
I visited the Law Library stacks and found the legislation as well as the royal proclamation pictured below.
The Act on Celebration of the Annunciation Day, Midsummer Day, and All Saints Day (Lag angående tiden för firandet av Marie bebådelsedag, midsommardagen, och allhellgonadagen (SFS 1952:48)) was adopted on February 22, 1952, but it was not until the following year (1953) that Midsummer Day would move from June 23 to always being on a Saturday, as announced in the proclamation from the same day.
A little more background to the decision to move the holiday can be found in the legislative history of the act, in particular the government report from 1950, SOU 1950:32 Arbetstidsutredningens betänknande del IV Tre Veckors Semester. A group of experts had been asked to review the potential effects of moving Midsummer from a set date (June 23) to a weekend. The group tasked with reviewing the effects of moving the holiday found that moving it would be beneficial for Swedish industry, as when Midsummer Day fell on Fridays, there was no point in starting the industries up for half a day on the Saturday. (Swedes worked half a day on Saturdays in 1950.) It was also concluded that changing the rules for Midsummer would increase productivity with 1/14 of a work day per year. Specifically, the group stated:
The issue of amending the process for establishing the Midsummer holiday determination ought to originally have been brought by industry. The current order sometimes creates a significant split of the workweek in which the holiday occurs. For example, when the Midsummer Day falls on a Friday it is often, from an economic perspective, not motivated to keep the operation of industry running during the comparably short workhours on the following Saturday. But also from a recreation perspective, there could be reasons in favor of such a change that means that the Midsummer Day happens on a Sunday, by which the consecutive leave is longer.
Against the idea to make midsummer a moving holiday, in that it no longer was to be celebrated on a set date, one may naturally highlight the objections. However, it is emphasized that Midsummer is not currently celebrated on the actual day of the summer solstice, which is June 22. A change in the order for the establishment of the Midsummer Day determination should therefore, among other things, in consideration hereof be able to take place without violating the tradition.
The experts’ proposal means that Midsummer Day is set to the Saturday that occurs between 20 – 26 of June. The choice of this period is motivated by, among other things, traffic related concerns. If Midsummer Day occurs later than June 26, it would occur too close to the end of the month of June and start of July with its heavy burden on the means of communication. With the proposal one seeks to decrease the risks of a too large accumulation of vacation travel in connection to the Midsummer weekend. (SOU 1950 pages 87-88, translation by the author.)
To this day, the midsummer weekend continues to be the worst weekend to travel in Sweden, with an average of six persons killed in traffic-related deaths between the Thursday that precedes Midsummer’s Eve and the Sunday after Midsummer Day.
According to the SOU report, the stakeholders (remissinstans) that provided input on the change to midsummer through a circulation for comment (remiss) were in all favor of making the holiday a weekend holiday, with only one stakeholder suggesting a different period (24-30 June) to extend the continuous vacation of workers. (SOU 1950:32 at 88)
Ever since 1953, Midsummer Eve has been celebrated on the Friday preceding Midsummer’s Day (falling between June 20 and 26), and while Friday is the day celebrated by raising the midsummer pole, Saturday continues to be the official holiday. (Lag om allmänna helgdagar (SFS 1989:253).)
Below please find some pictures of Midsummer Day celebrations from the Library’s collection.
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