Swedish Life Balance

It’s said that Swedes have an enviable work life balance and this festive season has been no exception.

Similar to many countries, Christmas and New Year are both bank holidays in Sweden. Similar to a few countries, today – 6 January – is also a bank holiday. In Sweden it’s called ‘Trettondag jul’ which translates as ’13th day of Christmas’. In other places, it’s known as Kings’ day, Day of the three magi, or epiphany.

Biblically it signifies the arrival of the three wise men and the baptism of Jesus. Secularly, it means another day off for most people.

In Sweden, it is the official end of the Christmas season, although the Christmas tree and decorations might stay up for a little longer.

This festive season has been a great opportunity for time off. By taking only 6 days’ holiday, workers have been able to be off for two and a half weeks.

A strong belief in work life balance is behind this. In general, Swedes work really hard and are dedicated. Coupled with the darkness at this time of the year, many people are exhausted by the time Christmas comes around. A long break is seen as a necessary way to recharge batteries, and regain motivation.

There’s a great Swedish word that you frequently hear after these long breaks – a person might describe themselves as ‘utvilad‘. This translates as ‘thoroughly rested’, and is essential to survive the long, dark winter season.

Who 20 Swedish airports should be named after

Naming airports after individuals is common – for example Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, or New York’s JFK or Liverpool’s John Lennon airports. But not in Sweden. No naming commercial airports after celebrities here. Who the hell do you think you are?

In Sweden, it is tradition to name commercial airports after the location they are in – so Stockholm is called ‘Arlanda’, Gothenburg is called ‘Landvetter’ and Malmö includes the village of ‘Sturup’.

There was loose talk about changing Stockholm Arlanda to Alfred Nobel, but the idea didn’t fly. So, I thought, who could the airports be named after? There are about 38 airports in Sweden – here is my name list for 20 of them:

  1. Stockholm – ABBA Airport
  2. Gothenburg – Ace of Base Airport
  3. Malmö – Zlatan Ibrahimovic Airport
  4. Linköping – Louise Hoffsten Airport
  5. Nyköping Skavsta – Tess Merkel Airport
  6. Östersund Åre – Henrik Lundqvist Airport
  7. Ängelholm – Jill Johnson Airport
  8. Borlänge – Mando Diao Airport
  9. Västerås – Tomas Tranströmer Airport
  10. Jönköping – Dag Hammarskjöld Airport
  11. Växjö – Vilhelm Moberg Airport
  12. Hemavan – Anja Pärson Airport
  13. Ronneby – Viktor Balck Airport
  14. Örebro – Prince Daniel Airport
  15. Karlstad – Selma Lagerlöf Airport
  16. Kristianstad – Axel Anderberg Airport
  17. Skellefteå – Stieg Larsson Airport
  18. Halmstad – Gyllene Tider Airport
  19. Visby – Josefin Nilsson Airport
  20. Umeå – Eva Dahlgren Airport

Sweden through the 2010’s – a retrospective

The Guardian newspaper describes the 2010’s as ‘The Age of Perpetual Crisis – a decade that disrupted everything but resolved nothing.’

Looking internationally it’s easy to see this. But is it the case in Sweden? Partially yes, but everything wasn’t bad.

Here’s a look back at the second decade of the century and a chance to remember some of the good and bad things that happened during 2010-2019 – in Sweden.

2010 – Crown Princess Victoria marries Daniel Westling, her former personal trainer. The last öre coin (50 öre) disappears from circulation. A suicide bomber blows himself up in central Stockholm – with no other casualties. Sweden accuses Julian Assange of rape, and issues an international arrest warrant.

2011 – Håkan Juholt replaces Mona Sahlin as leader of the Social Democrats, but it is very short-lived – he resigns a few months later. Over 50,000 people emigrate from Sweden – the largest ever exodus (as a percentage) in the country’s history.

2012 – Friends Arena opens in Solna and becomes Sweden’s national arena hosting 75,000 people. Loreen wins Eurovision with the popular song ‘Euphoria’ in Baku. Princess Estelle is born and thereby secures the future of the Swedish monarchy. Swedish Candy Crush Saga took the gaming world by storm.

2013 – Riots occur in Stockholm suburb Husby with at least 100 cars set on fire. A train derails outside Stockholm (Saltsjöbanan) and crashes into an apartment building. The man bun trend kicks off. The ABBA museum opens and quickly becomes a popular tourist attraction in Stockholm.

2014 – 80,000 refugees come to Sweden and one person sets fire to himself outside the Migration office in Karlstad. Suspected Russian u-boat in Stockholm’s archipelago. In a general election, sitting Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt loses to Stefan Löfven.

2015 – Måns Zelmerlöw wins Eurovision with ‘Heroes’. A rare earthquake occurs outside Gothenburg. Unrelated knife attacks in a school in Trollhättan and an IKEA in Västerås. Henning Mankell, author of the Wallander books, passes away. Passport control is introduced at Sweden’s bridge border to Denmark in an attempt to stem illegal immigration.

2016 – Swedish actress Alicia Wikander wins an Oscar for The Danish Girl. Singer Josefin Nilsson dies from the aftermath of domestic abuse. Sweden goes Pokemon crazy. A massive snow storm disables the capital. Henrik Stenson becomes the first male Swedish golfer to win the Open. The expensive and heavily-criticised New Karolinska hospital finally opens and receives its first patients.

2017 – Sweden’s population reaches 10,000,000. A terrorist attack on Stockholm’s main shopping street, Drottninggatan, kills 7 and scars the nation for ever. The MeToo movement sweeps over Sweden.

2018 – Sex scandal in the Swedish Academy with the consequence of many members resigning and no Nobel prize for literature being decided. Journalist Kim Wall is murdered in a submarine in Copenhagen. Using a mobile and driving at the same time becomes illegal. Swedish DJ Avicii commits suicide. Swedish legend Lill Babs dies. Massive forest fires devour Sweden.

2019 – 16 year old environmental activist Greta Thunberg sails the Atlantic, speaks at the UN and is named Person of the Year by Time magazine. The King makes symbolic changes to the Royal court. American rapper ASAP Rocky is arrested in Stockholm for assault. Sweden is rocked by a series of shootings and bombings throughout the country. Swedish Democrats become the second largest party in opinion polls. Swedes become more climate aware – the number of electric-driven cars increases and the amount of meat consumption decreases.

What sticks in your memory from the decade gone by?

Guardian article

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 24: Kalle Anka

Thank you for reading Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Today, we have come to the end. In Sweden, Christmas Eve, 24 December, is the big day for presents, food and festivities.

So here is the final word: Kalle Anka. This is the Swedish name for Donald Duck – a Disney character with a strong, and unexpected, connection to Swedish Christmas.

Traditional Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve in Sweden get off to a slow start usually. It all begins with a Christmas breakfast, consisting of rice porridge, wort bread, ham and Christmas cheese, amongst other things. After breakfast, some people go for a walk, some go to church, others begin the preparation for the Christmas julbord.

When to eat julbord differs from family to family. For some, it’s at lunch time, for others it more towards late afternoon. One surprising time marker is Kalle Anka (Donald Duck).

Every Christmas Eve since 1960, the Disney show ‘From All of Us to All of You’ featuring Donald Duck and his friends has been broadcasted on Swedish television. Always at 3pm. Every single year. A very weird tradition for someone like me who grew up listening to the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day at 3pm. In the UK we have the Queen. In Sweden, Donald Duck.

So the discussion in Swedish homes is ‘should we eat before or after Kalle?’.

Today, Kalle Anka is watched as a sentimental tradition, or as background noise on Christmas Eve. But in the 1960’s when it began, it was the only time of the year that cartoons were shown on tv, so it was a Christmas treat. Since it’s been broadcast for almost 60 years, it is an integral part of what many Swedes associate with Christmas.

After Kalle Anka och julbord, it’s time for a visit from Tomten with gift-giving. This is followed usually by more food and drink. Some people conclude the day with a Midnight service at their local church.

Christmas is, like many places around the world, a time of overconsumption. Enormous amounts of food are left over and eaten during the following days. In Sweden, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both Public holidays – and the official end of Christmas is January 13th. Then it is time to traditionally throw out the Christmas tree. The lights in the windows have usually disappeared by February.

And as the daylight slowly returns to Sweden, people start planning for lighter and warmer time of the year. And Christmas fades into memory…until next December.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 23: Dan före dopparedagen

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Dan före dopparedan‘ – which translates somewhat curiously as the day before dipping day. Or, the day before Christmas.

I always thought that the name ‘dopparedan’ (dipping day) for Christmas Eve was somehow a reference to John the Baptist.

But I was wrong.

It actually comes from the old Swedish tradition of dipping and drenching bread in the stock juices in which the ham has cooked, and eating it. This traditional practice was called dopp i grytan and originated in agricultural communities. People dipped their bread as a little snack while they made final preparations for the celebrations later in the evening. Some people still do this today.

Because Christmas Eve was called ‘dopparedagen’, the 23rd Dec became known as ‘dan före dopparedagen’ – the day before the day of dipping bread.

Today’s ‘dan före dopparedan’ is more to do with making the final stressful arrangements for tomorrow. Final baking is done, last-minute Christmas presents are bought, a visit to Systembolaget (alcohol shop) is made.

And then, darkness and calmness descends over houses and homes all around the country. The evening before Christmas Eve is called ‘uppersittarkväll’ and Swedish families traditionally gather to wrap presents, play tv bingo, play games and write Christmas present rhymes. It is also the evening when traditionally people put up final decorations and dress the Christmas tree, although this happens earlier for many families.

Once everything is finalized, hopefully there is a moment of relaxation to be had with a glass of warm glögg and a pepparkaka.

And then, it’s time to head off to bed in anticipation for the big day tomorrow – dipping day!

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 22: Tomten

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Tomten‘ – who is the Swedish equivalent of Santa Claus.

Around the world, Santa is based on the mythology of St Nikolas – the Greek/Turkish patron saint who’s legend morphed in the USA from the Dutch immigrants’ Sinterklaas to the jolly figure who rewards good children that we see today.

The Swedish symbol of Tomten is partially based on St Niklas and the American depiction of Santa Claus. However, he is also based on a goat and a mythical sprite.

Let’s travel back to rural Sweden hundreds of years ago. Here, in the countryside, Tomten was a kind of sprite (hob, gnome, pixie) who lived on the farm and made sure that the farm had good luck. Tomten was described as a little bearded man, dressed in sackcloth and with a beard. He usually lived in the barn and was shy, mischievous, and irritable – and also vengeful. To keep Tomten happy, the farmer would leave out rice porridge for him to eat – a food that became known as ‘tomtegröt’ and that is still eaten for Christmas breakfast in Sweden today.

With industrialization in the late 1800’s, Sweden started to become inspired by the German St Nicholas, and in modern minds he merged with the rural sprite to become ‘jultomte’ – the gift-bearing sprite.

Popular Christmas cards by Swedish artist Jenny Nyström depicted this new version of Tomten in 1874 and strongly influenced the Swedish way of seeing jultomte. He was dressed in red hat, with a fluffy white beard. He is also seen to have many little helpers – known as ‘tomtenissar’ (a kind of elf).

And in 1881, a poem by Viktor Rydberg called Tomten strongly cemented his transformation and associated the figure with mid-winter and Christmas time.

Prior to this concept of Jultomte/Tomten, gifts were brought in Sweden by the Christmas goat.

In Sweden today, Tomten arrives on Christmas Eve, usually in the late afternoon. He delivers gifts to families, usually with the introduction of ‘Ho, Ho, Ho are there any good children here?’

Strangely, he always seems to arrive just when a member of the family (often dad) has gone out to the shops or gone for a walk.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 21: Julvärd

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and its approaching weeks.

Today’s word is ‘Julvärd‘ which translates as Christmas host.

The term Christmas host is not referring to the religious bread that represents the body of Christ. Although you’d be forgiven for thinking so at this time of the year.

No, the Christmas host is a personality on tv who guides the viewers through the proceedings on Christmas Eve.

For 27 years the ‘julvärd’ was the same person – a man called Arne Weise – and he is, for many Swedes, eternally associated with Christmas Eve.

But since 2003, a new host is announced every year and it is considered a great honour to be given the role. This year the ‘julvärd’ is popular actor, comedian and singer Marianne Mörck.

While the role of ‘julvärd’ might seem trivial, it is actually very important. The Christmas host is present throughout the whole day and introduces the programs. He or she also talks about the value of Christmas and what it means. And not least, the ‘julvärd’ keeps lonely people company by inviting themselves into living rooms up and down the country.

This year’s host says in the trailer – ‘no matter who you are, where you live, or how old you are, I hope you will let me spend Christmas with you.’