Brow Beat

The Swedish Board of Tourism Sets the Record Straight on Midsommar

A still from the movie Midsommar with four actors in front of trees.
Visit Sweden!
A24

Are you feeling stuck in a rut? Tired of feeling your relationship is more resentment than romance? Do you long for a life of community, embroidered linen, ancient tradition, and ritual sacrifice? If this describes you, then Ari Aster’s Midsommar has probably given you the Swedish-itch. Yes, with its 18-hour summer days and quaint local customs, this modest Scandinavian country is certain to become the hottest destination for jet-setting millennials and urban witches alike. But is Sweden everything Midsommar makes it out to be? The director of the film has already copped to pulling inspiration for the film’s rituals from different traditions and sources, but how much of Aster’s film was fact and how much was fictitious?

Whatever you think about Ari Aster’s Midsommar, you can’t deny that at some level it’s a film about tourism. Specifically, the grand tradition of American tourism abroad; it is a classic story about four young Americans whose “cultural enlightenment” is blinded by their own self absorption. Before the country becomes inundated with American tourists looking for a very specific kind of couples retreat, we’re setting the record straight. We took our questions to Steve Robertshaw from Sweden’s board of tourism to ask about the post-Midsommar tourism business and how the country was dealing with the new interest in their midsummer festivities, lifestyle, and cultural traditions.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Rhodes Murphy: Have you noticed an uptick in tourism to Sweden since the release of Midsommar? What has been the reaction to the film among communities involved with tourism?

Steve Robertshaw: Incoming visitors to Sweden are measured on a monthly basis by the government, so it’s too early to tell if there’s been an upturn since the movie was only very recently released. However, numbers visiting Sweden have been steadily increasing over the past five years. Even in the U.K., where all short-haul destinations were experiencing a leveling off as a result of Brexit, Sweden is now back on the increase.

Midsommar presents a remote and culturally homogenous Swedish community, but what should tourists to Sweden expect if they were to visit?

The one thing research shows us which has the biggest positive impact on visitors to Sweden is the Swedish people. Expect them to be friendly, welcoming, and keen to share the love they have for their country. You can also expect:
• quality culinary experiences using local and often organic produce
• easily accessible city break destinations in Gothenburg, Stockholm, and Malmö
• stunning nature with the freedom to roam law
• many gorgeous design experiences and attractions

Are there really ancient runes involved in Swedish midsummer like those in the movie (which resemble Norse runes)?

Afraid not. Just pickled herring, potatoes, strawberries, snaps, and all generations having fun dancing round the midsummer pole. It’s rare to come across a tradition still genuinely enjoyed by all ages and as family groups, Swedish Midsommar is one of those precious traditions to be maintained and celebrated.

Where would I go if I wanted to witness a Hälsingehambon dance?

Hmm, I’d need some time to check with my friends.

What is Ättestupa? Is it a real thing in Sweden? There is a peak Ättestupan in Gothenburg— was that a site for ritual suicide?

Ärtsoppa is Swedish pea soup, often with chopped ham in. Traditionally enjoyed on Thursdays followed by pancakes. Haven’t heard of the Gothenburg hill, would need to research that, sorry.

Have there ever been any real-life rituals involving human sacrifices? Human sacrifices of tourists?

There may well be some myth or ancient story going way back somewhere, but I’m not a history buff I’m afraid. Most countries if they dig deep enough unearth something though.

Has there ever been a tradition of trapping bears or animals outside of the zoo? Are bears commonplace in Sweden?

The annual moose and bear cull is a long-held tradition and an important part of maintaining a healthy and balanced natural environment. Bears are not uncommon from Gästrikland/Hälsingland and north. With so much unspoilt forest and countryside, bears are rarely seen, though, and hibernate during the snowy winters.

Well, OK, maybe Sweden isn’t exactly like the country shown in Ari Aster’s hit horror film, but that would make sense as the movie was actually filmed in Hungary. It may not be the place to go for a Midsommar reenactment—maybe a good thing!—but if you enjoy a great time and lovely people, Sweden’s never a bad choice. Just don’t drink the tea.