Sunshine and singing
Summer is, in many European traditions, connected to singing, dancing and celebrating. It is a time of being outdoors in warmer weather and feeling connected to nature. The summer season features some of the most delightful traditions centered around enjoying nature.
The maypole is at the centre of summer festivities in many regions in Europe, ranging from the Nordic countries and Germany to parts of the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Switzerland. There are many rules around how to paint or decorate it and whether a new tree should be cut or the pole should be reused year after year.
In Bavaria, an elaborate procedure accompanies this tradition. The Burschen, the boys or unmarried men of the village or town, cut the tree on 30 April or 1 May and carry it to the town square. While they raise the Maibaum by hand, the whole community celebrates with food, drinks and brass band music. Communities across the region compete to have the highest pole – some reach more than 30 metres. The Burschen guard their poles, as it is common for other communities to try to steal them. If another community succeeds in stealing the pole, the original owners can reclaim it by negotiating a price in beer - which both sides drink together.
The maypole is also an essential part of the Scandinavian - particularly Swedish - tradition with the majstång or midsommarstång raised as part of midsummer celebrations. This is the longest day of the year and, together with Christmas, is the most important holiday in Sweden.
The Swedish maypole is in the shape of a cross, with two wreaths hanging from it. It is decorated with birch twigs and flowers. During the afternoon, communities dance around the pole in rings, while singing typical songs such as ‘Små grodorna’ (‘Little frogs’). In the evening, women and children weave wreaths from seasonal grasses and flowers, with some wearing traditional costumes.
There is even a typical menu for midsummer: pickled herring, sour cream, chives, new potatoes, beer and schnaps as well as fresh strawberries. Contrary to Christmas, which is mostly celebrated at home with family, midsummer is shared with friends or even strangers at public places.
Festas de São João
Midsummer is, of course, also celebrated outside of Sweden. In Porto, a city in the north of Portugal, thousands of people come together on the night of 23 June. The Festas de São João (St John's Eve) celebrate the time of abundance, when nature is at its high point.
Considered as pagan by the Catholic Church, Festas de São João later was christianised and dedicated to St John the Baptist.
It is a festival full of traditions, including hitting the heads of passers-by with leeks, women hitting men on the face with small branches of lemon balm, riding in hot air balloons, jumping over the bonfires scattered throughout the city, giving potted basil plants with poems as gifts to friends and family and enjoying midnight fireworks over the Douro River.
In Greece, panigyria take place each August in towns and villages across the country. These traditional festivals are important social celebrations of saints of the Greek Orthodox Church and of patron saints of the local villages.
Each island village holds its own characteristic panigyri, which includes cooking food together, dancing all night long and drinking free wine. Some of the most famous are held on Icaria, Tinos and Kefalonia.
In Kefalonia, according to the Virgin of the Snakes tradition, the forthcoming year will bring bad luck if small snakes do not appear in the church and its courtyard.
The festival in the Epirus region on mainland Greece attracts hundreds of people - almost exclusively men - who dance the traditional slow dance tsamiko.