Every country has its special days of celebration. Some are know internationally, like the Octoberfest in Munich or Queen`s Day in The Netherlands. Others may he smaller in scale, but they still have the power to mobilise the country for collective celebrations. Which days in Sweden qualify as such? I am trying to find out what day of the year people like most.
Kajsa (25) needs to think for a while before deciding that she finds her birthday the nicest day of the year. It`s the 9th of December, and she usually invites friends and family over for dinner and party. It is common for everybody to bring one present, which may be a flowers, a bottle of wine, a book or something they made. Kasja`s all time favourite birthday present was the drum set her parents gave her when she turned 10. Some people also celebrate their name`s day, but that is mostly for children and their will not be any party. Maybe some cake.
`My birthday is my favourite day of the year`
Other favourite days of the year include New Year`s Eve, which is usually celebrated at friends` places. Some people rent places and a few others may go to organised parties. Specialities on the menu include champaign and sea food. There is some English comedy on TV and usually fireworks at twelve o`clock. Karl (24) tells me that fire crackers are no longer allowed: `They have been banned and are now considered explosives. I am happy they only did that recently, because I enjoyed blowing up things when I was younger.`
Karl further tells me about Mid Summer, which he considers the nicest day of the year. He can consider himself lucky, because his favourite day of the year is also the longest one. The sun hardly sets, or not even at all in the north of the country. Over the last 10 years, he has celebrated Mid-Summer with his family on the Swedish coast near the island of ?land. They go out for a hike and have a pick-nick lunch in nature. The tradition prescribes that people dance around a pole, but Karl and his family do not do that. They eat strawberry cake, enjoy each others` company, and the fact that they escaped the city. Most people aim to just do that: they use their day off work to head for the countryside. Plans for Mid-Summer are a good topic of conversation on the days preceding the event. Following their own choice, people may spend their Mid-Summer with friends or family, sometimes in their native village or around the place where either family or friends have summer houses. When the day finally comes, drinking and dancing are the norm, mid summer actually being the only day that grown-ups are allowed, or even expected, to get drunk and behave stupid.
Return of the light
Maria (23) is Karl`s girlfriend. She also likes Mid-Summer, but prefers Christmas. Many other counties link Christmas to religion. That is far less common in Sweden, where the changing of the seasons and the influence of nature is more important than the existence or not of a supreme powers. Christmas is thus mainly used to celebrate that the days are getting longer and that the light will soon return. During the four weeks preceding Christmas, once candle is lit for every Sunday that Christmas comes closer. The house will be decorated on the inside, with a Christmas tree as a centre of the celebrations. It will stay around until 20 days after Christmas, which is the name day of Knut.
The highlight of Christmas is actually Christmas Eve (24th December) rather than the 25th or 26th, all of which are bank holidays. Some people go to church, but most don`t. They will spend a large part of the day sitting around the table with the whole family: parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters included. Maria`s Christmas follows a strict schedule and it`s the same every year. Conserved fish, lutfisk is served for lunch. Then the whole family hooks up to the TV to watch Donald Duck, not Scrooge, for one hour. The short Disney Classics shown are the same every year, with the exception of the two final ones, which are trailers for upcoming new Disney film releases. Karl comments that his family too watches the Donald Duck program and every year they complain how the old are all the same every year, and how the new ones are not as good as the old ones.
After Donald Duck, Maria`s family hang around for some time, right until the unpacking of the Christmas presents starts. They used to have one present from everybody to everybody, but this year everybody they will draw and only buy presents for one other person. The presents are unpacked in random order, one by one. Dinner starts when all Christmas presents have been dealt with. Everybody has prepared a part of the meal. Grandmother`s meat balls are the most important. If they missed, Christmas would be spoilt.
After dinner, the family play card games or Trivial Pursuit. They will not go to church or sing, but since Maria plays the flute, she is usually requested to play some tunes during the course of the evening. Maria emphasises that every family has a different way of celebrating Christmas, but ham, meat balls and Christmas presents are likely to be part of all of those. About the ham, Karl says: it`s always the same struggle, with the oven being to cold or too hot, and the ham burning or being raw on the inside. It takes forever to cook. Some people thus have spare ribs instead.
Many people still celebrate Christmas and Mid-Summer in a more or less traditional way. That is less true for two other events: Saint Lucia (13 December) and the last day of April. Saint Lucia used to be celebrated to replace the sunlight during the dark days of December. School classes would dress up in white, with one long-haired blond girl being appointed Lucia. She would wear a ring of candles on her head and lead the kid`s processing along people`s doors. Although still celebrated in smaller villages, the big towns have lent Lucia to commerce. The Lucia appointment now closely resembles a Miss election, with SMS voting possibilities included.
The last day of April was traditionally used to build bonfires. It still is, but rather than singing and dancing, the bonfire now mainly serves as the venue for big crowds of teenagers who get drunk and misbehave. Age limits may be strictly observed in the state-owned liquor shops - there are always ways to get cheap and strong alcohol for the April spring celebrations.
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