Traditions in Sweden

#History

Birthday

This is the day when you lie in bed and pretend to be asleep even though you've been awake for ages. And you wonder whether the family is ever going to come with your birthday cake and presents.

Valborg (Walpurgis night)

When the darkness falls on the last day of April, people in most parts of Sweden light bonfires. They celebrate the return of the sun and the warm weather with speeches and songs. Traditionally this is a particularly festive time for students.

Birgitta Nilsson

Easter

At Easter children dress up like old witches with brooms. They go from house to house collecting some coins or sweets. This custom goes back to the days when people believed that there were witches who rode on broomsticks to Blakulla mountain to meet the Devil.

In olden days people believed that women could turn into witches at Easter. On Maundy Thursday all evil powers were at play. All witches were starting out for “Blåkulla” where the Devil was inviting them to a feast. All brooms, rakes and other conceivable means of transportation were locked up to prevent them from going! On Many Thursdag or Easter Eve, children dress up as Easter-hags and walk around the town or village wishing Happy Easter.

Sometimes they distribute Easter letters that they have made themselves. The subject is often an Easter-hag accompanied but a humorous verse about the “blåkulla-ride. In Swedish: (påskkäringar) Eggs used to be popular gifts at Easter, Maids and farm-hands were given eggs by their master and mistress. Young people used to give each other beautifully painted souvenir-eggs with name and date.

During Easter, people used to amuse themselves with various egg-games,

particularly in Skåne. The children got one hard-boiled egg each, of different colors. They put a roofing-tile aslant and then rolled their eggs by turn down the tile and out onto the floor. If you hit another egg you could keep it. We also color our eggs, with onion-scales or coffee grounds or egg-colors. BUT - the twigs with feathers in them are not for Easter, but for Lent! My family use to have twigs with eggs (not real ones) and easter-hags in it. But for Lent we have the one with feathers.

After Easter

We have 4 days off work this week if we are lucky! It's because of Kristi Himmelsfärds dag or Ascension Day, which is celebrated, according to the ecclestical calendar, on Thursday of the 6th week after Easter.

Maybe you celebrate this with a “gök-otta” - you get up early in the morning (around 3 or 4 a.m.) and meet in a forest glen to hear the birds sing at sunrise. Gök-otta means “early cuckoo morning” as this is the time of year one can hear the cuckoo call.

It's also Temperance Day and is celebrated by the various temperance organizations throughout the country.

Friday is a normal weekday, but many take a day off from work. With the weekend this means 4 free days!

End Of School Year

School ends at the beginning of June. Everyone wears their best clothes for the last day and there are flowers in the classroom. The children have school holidays for two and a half months and when they meet again in the autumn they advance to the next class.

Midsummer

When summer is at its lightest at the end of June the sun only sets for a few hours every night in southern Sweden and not at all up in the north. This is when people celebrate midsummer. You pick flowers and leaves and decorate a maypole with them and dance around it and you can stay up all night.

Midsummer Eve is the great festival of summer in Sweden. Nature is at its fairest and there is dancing around the “majstång” (Maypole), the symbol of Swedish Midsummer celebrating.

To decorate with sprays of foliage or to “may” (Sw. maja) has been common in Sweden from of old. Young birches were put at the porch steps and the cottages were decorated with leafy branches in-door, too. Formerly the maypole was common to the whole village, and it was erected in the center of the village. The young people saw to it that the maypole was decorated and erected, and then the dancing went on all night long.

Merry Christmas!

Lucia is celebrated on the 13th of December in practically every Swedish home, and every community, office, school or club chooses a Lucia, who - dressed in a white gown and with a crown of candles in her hair - brings a tray of coffee, traditionally shaped saffron rolls, and ginger biscuits. Sometimes she serves glögg, a mulled wine. She is accompanied by a train of white-clad attendants, the girls wearing glitter in their hair and the boys wearing tall paper cones with stars on them. All sing the traditional Lucia Carols. BUT - it has nothing to do with the Italian saint! Lucia is a manifestation of quite a different medieval saint, Nicholas. When the reformation came to Northern Europe, the adoration of saints was prohibited, but some of them, and especially Nicholas the generous patron saint of schoolchildren, were not easy to do without. So the Germans replaced him with the Christ child and transferred the distribution of gifts from the feast of St Nicholas, on 6th December, to Christmas. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Christ child, represented by a girl dressed in a white linen tunic and with a candle wreath in her hair, played this part in Germany and also in German or German-influenced circles in Sweden. But in Sweden it was transferred to Lucia Day, because early that morning it had been the custom of the Swedes, ever since medieval times, to eat and drink anything up to seven breakfast in a row, to prepare themselves for the Christmas fast, which began at sunrise on the morning of the 13th December! The height of the Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, followed by the 2 holidays Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Christmas festivities involve numerous traditional activities and attributes, the most important of which are the Christmas tree, the Christmas meal, and the visit of the tomte or Christmas gnome. The Christmas tree has been a part of Christmas in Sweden since the 1700s. Christmas Eve, we eat traditional dishes such as ham, lutfisk and rice porridge. After the meal it is time for a visit from the tomte. He was believed to live under the floor-boards of the house or barn. He was credited with looking after the family and their livestock. Toward the turn of the past century a Swedish artist - Jenny Nyström - began producing greeting cards illustrated with gnomes. Her figures were a tremendous success, and soon the tomte had assumed a role comparable to that of the various Santa Claus figures in other countries. He is believed to come with presents. In many households someone disguised as a tomte, a big sack of presents over his or her shoulder, appears on the doorstep sometime towards the evening of Christmas Eve. The Christmas goat is a typical Swedish Christmas decoration, made of straw. It descends probably from the figure of the devil which was included in the St Nicholas revels put on by schools in the Middle Ages. Later he became the leading character in an odd little Christmas play which young people would perform as they did the rounds of homesteads, collecting food and drink for their dancing and festivities at Christmas time. Then in the 18th century, wearing a goat mask, he was entrusted with the distribution of Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, but for the past 100 years, following the usurpation of that task by jultomten, he has survived in a purely ornamental capacity

SANKTA LUCIA SONG

It is traditional in Sweden to sing the Sankta Lucia song with the same

melody as the well-known Italian song. The translation is somewhat loose:

Chris Troy

Natten går tunga fjät

rund gård och stuva;

kring jord, som sol förlät,

skuggorna ruva.

Då i vårt mörka hus,

stiger med tända ljus,

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten går stor och stum

nu hörs dess vingar

i alla tysta rum

sus som av vingar.

Se, på vår tröskel står

vitklädd med ljus i hår

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret ska flyta snart

ur jordens dalar

så hon ett underbart

ord till oss talar.

Dagen ska åter ny

stiga ur rosig sky

Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

The night goes with heavy steps

around farm and cottage;

round the earth the sun has forsaken,

the shadows are brooding.

There in our darkened house,

stands with lighted candles

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

The night passes, large and mute

now one hears wings

in every silent room

whispers as if from wings.

See, on our threshold stands

white-clad with candles in her hair

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

The darkness shall soon depart

from the earth's valleys

then she speaks

a wonderful word to us.

The day shall be born anew

Rising from the rosy sky.

Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.

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