A birthday – Swedish style


This morning we had a power cut and the flat was plunged into darkness. It’s also my birthday and I was celebrated, accordingly, by candle light. In Sweden, birthdays are celebrated in much the same way as in other countries – presents, cake, songs. Although the birthday song in Swedish is bizarrely about hoping the birthday boy or girl lives to a hundred and is then pushed around in a wheelbarrow.

A few years ago, I had my 40th. I had a big party with 40 guests and we ate and danced into the night. At Swedish birthday parties, it’s quite common that the guests perform – singing a song with altered words, acting out a cabaret or reading poems. It’s a grand way to be celebrated.

The big birthdays are important in Sweden. Most people celebrate 30, 40, 50 with a bang. Some even say that 50 is the biggest party of your life. You celebrate your achievements and the journey your life has taken you on. This is quite different from the UK where people tend to want to forget that they are ageing. Small celebrations but nothing big. 40 is uncomfortable, and 50, my god – 50 is a nightmare.

And this reflects one of the differences I see in cultural behaviour between Sweden and the UK. Celebrations.

While Sweden maintains tradition and celebration, the UK has abandoned it. Christmas and New Year in the UK are probably the only national celebrations that survive. But in Sweden, festivities abound and traditions are kept alive. Apart from Christmas and New Year, there’s Lent, Easter, Walpurgis Eve, May Day, National Day, Midsummer, Crayfish party, ‘Surströmming’ premiére, the Eel feast, All Saints’ Day, St Martin’s Day, Advent, Lucia. Many of these celebrations revolve around tradional food and gathering together of friends and family.

Many Swedish traditions have ancient roots, others came with immigrants or the church. Regardless of the origin, Swedes observe and enjoy these traditions.

It’s a shame that traditional celebrations aren’t as important in other countries such as the UK anymore. They are a part of the life cycle here, giving shape to our lives and giving us a sense of time and seasonal rhythm.

I love the Swedish way of observing the traditions, eating the food and being together with friends and family.

So, Happy Birthday to me. I live in Sweden.

2 thoughts on “A birthday – Swedish style

  1. There's Guy Fawkes where all the kids try and blind one another. And what about the traditional piss up at the pub? Yes, I agree with you Neil. When did you last go wassailing?

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