At a cursory glance, Ari Aster’s Midsommar looks like an Instagram fever dream during festival season, replete with flower crowns and flowy white dresses. Give it a good second look, and you’ll see an eviscerated bear and smeared blood, very much reminding us of the horrors of Aster’s feature directorial debut, Hereditary. If you thought that Midsommar had something to do with midsummer, you wouldn’t be off the mark. Here’s a quick dive into the meaning behind the curious name of the film.
Midsommar is basically Swedish for midsummer, which the Swedes and other Northern Europeans observe as a holiday for the Summer solstice. Depending on who you ask, Midsommar, usually celebrated between the third and fourth week of June, isn’t even in the middle of Summer — it’s the first day that Summer begins. We can thank astronomers and meteorologists for the tricky semantics. To mark the first day of Summer, astronomers follow the Earth’s position in relation to the sun, marking the Summer solstice as the longest day of the year. Meteorologists look to the temperature. The weather approach would make the “middle of Summer” definition more accurate.
But for the sake of Aster’s film, what matters most are the parties and festivals around this time. Based on pre-Christian pagan traditions, its origins are fuzzy, but it’s commonly held to celebrate the end of cold winter months. Historically, Christians have commemorated June 24 as the feast day for John the Baptist, but the holiday can fall between June 20 and 25.
For the Swedes, Midsommar rivals Christmas. Its festivities include eating pickled herring, drinking schnapps, and dancing like frogs. Bonfires are also common since they represent the sun, and some cultures have even sacrificed animals and witch effigies to the flames. Another noteworthy part of the celebration is the flower-decorated maypole, which people dance around. This is a prominent symbol in the teaser for Midsommar, so be sure to keep an eye out for it in the movie. Suffice to say, we can expect Aster’s film to twist these joyous community celebrations into something much darker and more cultish.
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