Midsummer in Battery Park, NYC
The Swedish midsummer celebration in Battery Park is the biggest one in New York, and the third largest in the world. I have been going every June for the past three years and it has been steadily increasing in size. It keeps the traditions of a Swedish midsummer as much as is possible in the United States, though certain aspects cannot be matched.
One major difference between Swedish midsummer and the festival held in Battery Park is location. By location, I am referring to more than just the fact that they are celebrated in different countries. In Sweden, midsummer is always celebrated in the countryside, with the familiar pine forests and traditional red cottages in the background. There is often a lake nearby where people can jump in to cool off from hours of dancing. In contrast, Battery Park is surrounded by skyscrapers on three sides and the grimy Hudson River on the other. One of the customs of midsummer is picking flowers to make wreaths for your hair. Girls will venture into the bright meadows of the Swedish countryside to make beautiful crowns of flowers for themselves and for the men at home who think they are above flowers, but secretly love being handed a wreath by their daughters and sisters. In New York there are booths set up that hand out bouquets of flowers and twigs to make wreaths but the feeling is not the same. The unity with nature, which is central to the celebration of midsummer, is lost in New York City.
Another difference is the food. Though many of the dishes served in Battery Park are made following traditional Swedish recipes, they just don’t taste the same. This is due to the ingredients used. Nothing in America can match the fresh Swedish dairy products or the small but sweet fruits.
The sense of community is somewhat lost in the New York celebration. In Sweden the celebrations are much smaller, usually composed of family and friends or organized by the local town. To be fair, the festival at Battery Park does manage to bring together strangers as we all join hands to dance around the maypole. However, this bond is fleeting, while the people surrounding you in Sweden are usually friends you have known your whole life.
One other problem with the Battery Park midsummer festival, is congestion. The space is too small to accommodate all the people that are now attending the celebration. Hopefully the Swedish consulate will be able to change the location within the next couple years, people are pushing for moving it to Central Park.
Overall the attitude of the Swedes that attend the midsummer festival in Battery Park is very positive. Though it will never live up to the celebrations at home, it is a good way to relieve some of the homesickness that Swedes start to feel when summer is in the air.
Below is an interview with my mother Tove Andersen, who moved here from Sweden when I was just a few years old. Many of her points confirm my earlier statements regarding the differences between Swedish and American midsummer celebrations.