2020 – the year most Swedes want to forget

A quick look at social media reveals the general Swedish attitude to 2020 – ‘a shit year’, ‘throw the year in the bin’, ‘go to hell 2020’.

Obviously, people are referring to the global pandemic that swept the world, limiting our freedoms, making us sick and killing 8727 people in Sweden. So far, about 10% of the Swedish population has had Covid 19, and as we enter 2021, that number is quickly rising.

However devastating the pandemic is, 2020 wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were some positive news stories in Sweden as well, even though media coverage was totally dominated by the virus. Let’s reflect over some of the rays of light:

– The Convention on the Rights of the Child became enshrined in Swedish law. This expands legal protection to children.

– The planet got a much-needed breathing space. Fewer planes in the sky and cars on the roads improved air quality and reduced pollution. Biggest impacts of this were seen in other places, such as New Delhi, where the sky turned blue again.

– Despite physical distance, people showed solidarity and care for each other. People shopped for each other, walked each other’s dogs, serenaded each other and checked in on each other. 2020 was a year of neighborliness.

– People gathered up and down the country to protest against oppression and racism as part of the global BLM movement. While gatherings might have been illegal, it showed a strong commitment to equality in Swedish society.

– The Golden bridge was inaugurated in Stockholm by the King. This feat of engineering, manufactured in and shipped from China, creates an important link at the hub between Södermalm and the Old Town.

– Pope Francis defended the right of same sex couples to enter into legal partnership. This political statement was welcomed by catholic LGBT people in Sweden and abroad.

– Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis broke the world record – twice! And Swedish biathletes gave a sense of national pride as they repeatedly crushed their competition, especially the Norwegians.

– The Swedish economy recovered better than expected, with a growth in GDP. Good news for everybody given the global impact of the pandemic. And a glimmer of hope for 2021 and beyond.

Confusing Swedish greetings of the festive season

It’s that time of year when people greet each other with more than a simple ‘Hej’ (hello), or ‘tjena’ (hi). There are various ways to do it, depending on the day, and it is a bit confusing for the uninitiated.

The last time you see somebody before Christmas, you say ‘God Jul’ (Merry Christmas). This is assuming Christmas is close of course, and does not apply if the last time you see somebody is October. ‘God Jul’ continues through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Around Boxing Day, the greeting changes to ‘God Fortsättning’ (Good Continuation).

Then, around Dec 30/31, ish, it changes to ‘Gott Slut’ (Good Ending) before changing to ‘Gott Nytt År’ (Happy New Year) at the strike of midnight on Jan 1st.

’God Fortsättning’ (Good Continuation) takes over again around Jan 2 and then fizzles out after two weeks. The absolute final date for any form of festive greeting is Jan 13th. This day is called ‘Tjugondag Knut’ and is when Christmas is over in Sweden and the Christmas tree and decorations are traditionally thrown out. After that, it’s back to ’Hej’ again.

So as today is Dec 27, I’d like to wish you all a ‘God Fortsättning’.

Swedish Lucia – a light that never goes out

According to meteorologists, Stockholm has had ZERO hours of sunlight in December. The rest of the country hasn’t been much better. Thankfully, tomorrow, 13 Dec, is Santa Lucia Day in Sweden. At this darkest time of the year, Santa Lucia (St Lucy) pays us a visit early in the morning. Lucia has candles in her hair and is surrounded by her handmaidens and boys, and shines much-needed light into the dark depths of our tired souls. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.

Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. She was seeking help for her mother’s long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage. Officials threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking. One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.

The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brought to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current custom of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century. The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press.

Today schools select a Lucia among the students. This is usually a girl, but on occasion boys have been elected. This sidestep from tradition has caused conservatives to foam at the mouth.

The Lucias visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread. This year, of course, things will be different. Concerts have been cancelled, or will be broadcast digitally, and any physical Lucia visits will be carried out with appropriate social distance, and probably outdoors.

So, it might be a dark time in human history, and it is certainly dingy outside, but remember – after darkness comes the light. And this year, we need it more than ever.

The Nobel prizes. What is your legacy?

Today is Nobel Day when the winners of the five Nobel prizes are celebrated. This year is a digital ceremony and the usual concert and grand banquet have been cancelled to avoid crowding.


But how did the Nobel prizes come about? Well, the story goes like this. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, woke up one day to his own obituary in the newspaper. Mistakenly, the paper had declared him dead, when in fact it was his brother. As a title for the obituary, the newspaper had written a rather unflattering ‘The angel of death is dead‘. The journalist also wrote that Alfred Nobel had made it possible to kill more people than anyone who had ever lived.


Suddenly Alfred Nobel understood this is how he would be remembered and, to change it, he founded the Nobel Prizes. Now his name is synonymous with science, literature and peace.


It makes for an interesting reflection. If you could read your own obituary, would you be proud of what you read? Would you also change your behaviours to influence the memory of you? And, if that’s the case – why not get out there and do it now?

‘The Crown’ – Swedish style

The Netflix series ‘The Crown’ which depicts the British monarchy has just started its 4th season. Featuring the sad destiny of Diana, and including events like the Falklands war, it is set to be a dramatic ride.

It got me thinking if they made a Swedish version, probably called ‘Kronan’, who would be the ideal cast? Which Swedish actors would fit the bill? Any suggestions?

Swedish nicknames – male or female?

In English, nicknames for men are often abbreviations of their name. Robert becomes Bob, Richard becomes Dick, Andrew becomes Andy. In Swedish, it’s not so. Usually, the nicknames get a bit longer and are signified by an ending that has a double consonant and ‘e’.

If you hear a Swedish name ending in double consonant and ‘e’, it is almost always a male name. The ‘e’ is pronounced ‘eh’. Jan becomes Janne, Dan is Danne, Leif is Leffe. Others are Olle, Beppe, Kalle, Chrille and Fredde. Some female nicknames ending with ‘e’ are Madde (Madeleine), and Mirre (Mariana), but female nicknames with double consonant and ‘e’ are quite unusual.

Names ending with ‘a’ are usually female names – Mia, Moa, Nadja and Ebba. If you hear a name ending in ‘a’ it is almost always a female name. There are a few male names, such as Gösta, Ola, Noa and Joshua but it is overwhelmingly female names that end with ‘a’.

Nicknames for women usually get shorter and often have ‘an’ on the end. Elisabeth becomes Bettan, Birgitta is Gittan, Therese becomes Tessan, Mikaela is Mickan.

So, how many men and how many women are in the following example?

I saw Nisse, Tobbe, Lottan and Nillan yesterday. They were sitting with Bosse, Kjelle and Affe. I’m not sure where Maggan, Nettan or Pelle were.

Swedish must-reads 10: ‘Doctor Glas’

In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the tenth, and final, one, and it’s a classic – ‘Doctor Glas’- written in 1905 by Hjalmar Söderberg.

The gripping tale of a young doctor who falls in love with a married woman. The woman is wedded to a sadistic minister and divorce is out of the question. To free the woman he loves, and enact revenge on her husband, Dr Glas is faced with a terrible dilemma. Söderberg is considered an important figure in Swedish literary history, and wrote several novels. Another of his famous works is ‘The Serious Game’.

Swedish must-reads 9: ‘Easy Money’

In ten posts, I am recommending good Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days and pandemic lock down. This is the ninth one – ‘Easy Money’ – written in 2006 by Jens Lapidus.

This book takes us into the brutal, criminal underworld of Stockholm. A thriller, the story follows the destinies of a group of young men all trying to get filthy rich, but paying a heavy price along the way. Jens Lapidus has written several books on the same theme and several have been made into movies.

Swedish must reads 8: ’The People of Hemsö’

In ten posts, I am recommending great Swedish reads to enjoy during the dark days. This is the eighth one – ‘The People of Hemsö’ – written in 1887 by legendary Swedish author August Strindberg.

Carlsson is on his way to the island of Hemsö in the Stockholm archipelago to work at widow Flod’s farm. With Flod’s husband dead, the farm is falling part. Drama ensues. A classic tale of greed, jealousy, love, lust and lies.