The Real Festival That Inspired Horror Flick 'Midsommar'

Is the new movie putting the celebration in a horrifying light and giving people the wrong impression?

A summer festival featuring special ceremonies and costumes sounds fun. But a new film is putting a scary twist on the Swedish tradition.

"Midsommar," from director Ari Aster, is about a young couple whose relationship is on the rocks. They decided to reconnect on a trip to Sweden for the annual Midsommar festival. The getaway takes a dark turn with the couple are asked to participate in increasingly disturbing events.

The real Midsommar is a celebration to welcome the arrival of warm weather, and the festival goes back centuries.

"We believe the pre-Swedes or the neolithic people understood there was this time of year where the days were the longest, when the crops were the best and the critters were reproducing. There was lots of food, lots of vegetables, lots of berries. And they made a big celebration out of it," explained Gregg White of the Swedish Council of America.

While it's unknown exactly how this solstice event was celebrated back then, today the festivities involve big gatherings of family and friends. Swedes usually take several days off from work for the occasion and dance, play games, gather flowers and eat.

White said celebrants often go to a large farm and "set up a big long table that can sit 20 or 30 people." The menu is usually packed with pickled herring, new potato, salmon, sour cream and chives. They may also be beer or aquavit, the national drink of Sweden.

"You might sing some wonderful and humorous songs, and take a little shot and have your day go forward," White said.

In fact, these celebrations are not unique to Sweden. Other Scandinavian countries, and some cities in the U.S., also mark the arrival of warm weather.

While the new movie may put the Midsommar festival in a horrifying light, the Swedish Council of America isn't too worried about people getting the wrong impression about the celebration.

"The producers have tied into the pagan concepts, the pre-Christian pagan concepts of Midsummer for the film. ... Is it capturing the realism of Swedish Midsommar? Not so much. But will it introduce a lot of people to Midsommar who haven't heard of it before? It will be great for that purpose," White said.