New Year’s Eve
The Swedish New Year often coincides with a bout of ice-cold weather. Temperatures, which tend to hover frustratingly around freezing point over Christmas, at least in the south, gradually drop, and by midnight you can see shivering Swedes, up to their knees in heavy snow, toasting one another in champagne and firing off rockets.
The Swedes’ traditional inability to absorb foreign expressions was due not so much to national pride as to a sort of social immobility, coupled at times with a degree of (let’s face it!) self-conceit.
Sweden is a large country with a lengthy coastline, as the tourist brochures keep telling us. So when the big seasonal holidays come round, Swedes embark on long journeys to visit friends and relatives.
Walpurgis Eve - and 1 May
You can collect a whole load of junk in the course of a year. And (in Sweden) much of it ends up on the Walpurgis bonfire – old doors and fencing, branches from pruned fruit trees, discarded bushes and old cardboard boxes. The bonfires are lit all over the country on 30 April.
Sweden has not taken part in any of the wars of the modern era, which may explain the Swedes’ somewhat guarded attitude towards celebrating a national day. They are proud of their country but don’t seem to feel any great need to show it. Previously, 6 June was not a public holiday, and for many people the only sign that this was a special occasion was the decoration of buses with Swedish flags.
Summer in Sweden is short. It starts showing its face in May and explodes into life in June. The summer has to hurry to get things done before the nights turn cold in September and everything stops growing. At Midsummer, the Swedish summer is a lush green and bursting with chlorophyll, and the nights are scarcely dark at all. In the north, the sun never sets.
The crayfish party
As the Swedish summer draws to a close, you may be lucky enough to experience warm, clear August nights that are almost Mediterranean in character. That’s when Swedes have their crayfish parties.
The surströmming premiere
All countries have their own dreaded delicacies – insects, strange entrails and pieces of meat in various stages of decay. Sweden has the notorious sour herring (surströmming).
The celebration of a particular custom often has lengthy roots. Some customs are traditional, with the emphasis on their religious origins, while others are of a contemporary, more commercial nature. When a custom is exported, however, the roots are usually cut. So Halloween pumpkins in Sweden are made of plastic and the children’s fancy-dress costumes were bought at the supermarket round the corner.
All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day is a day of dignity and reflection. The custom of lighting candles on family graves is still widely practiced, and anyone travelling through Sweden on this weekend is met by some beautiful scenes. With luck, the first snow has fallen over the country’s cemeteries.
St Martin’s Day - or ’Martin Goose’
St Martin’s Day is a celebration of the goose – all other connotations have largely been forgotten. In early November, geese are ready for slaughter, and on St Martin’s Eve, November 10, it is time for the traditional dinner of roast goose.
By the time December comes round, Sweden has very few hours of daylight. The sun drops out of sight in the afternoon. The first Sunday of Advent comes as an eagerly awaited sign that Christmas is approaching. Although by then, of course, the world of commerce has made sure we know what is coming – sales campaigns begin in mid-November and Christmas shop windows and street decorations are already in place.
Sweden is an egalitarian place these days, so any child can be chosen as Lucia for the annual procession at the local daycare centre, not just pretty ones with long blonde hair. The boys usually prefer to be brownies (tomtar) or ‘star boys’ (stjärngossar) in the procession, while quite a few girls agree to be Lucia’s handmaidens (tärnor).
After nearly a month of waiting, Christmas Eve finally arrives – the height of the celebration in Sweden.Work is at an end, schoolchildren are on holiday and the Christmas preparations are complete.