Afton – Swedes’ favourite celebration


In the UK, we celebrate ‘Days’ such as Christmas Day & Easter Day. But in Sweden, it is always the Eve ( ‘afton’) that is the big celebration time. There’s Julafton, Påskafton, Valborgsmässoafton, Midsommarafton, nyårsafton, trettondagsafton. Why is this? Anyone know? Cos I’ve always wondered. Surely it can’t just be to get an extra day’s holiday?

Swedish Long Friday, English Good Friday

Today is Long Friday in Sweden, Good Friday in English-speaking countries. If you hold to the Christian belief, it’s the day Jesus was crucified on Golgata, outside of Jerusalem.

Why the differences in names for this day? In English-speaking countries, there are differences of opinions as to why it’s called Good Friday. Some people claim Good is an old English word meaning Holy – so Holy Friday. Others say it’s a development of the word God. And other theories say it is good because it is the day Jesus, dying on his cross, was victorious over sin, death and the devil and took upon him all the sins of Mankind. Heavy stuff.

In Sweden, it is called Long Friday as it was said to be a day of mourning for the long day of suffering that Jesus endured will being crucified.

In Sweden, as in the UK, today is a public holiday, people don’t need to dress in black anymore and all the shops and places of entertainment are open. Some people go to church, some paint eggs and decorate Easter trees, some prepare food for Easter Saturday.

I think it’s interesting to know the origins of our traditions. Often these origins are long forgotten. But understanding the history helps put things into perspective as we celebrate in the way we prefer, traditions that have been followed for centuries before and centuries to come.



Pink Thursday?


Today is ‘Skärtorsdag’, or Maundy Thursday in English. In Sweden it’s celebrated by children dressing up as witches. This tradition originates from the belief centuries ago that tonight was the witches night, where witches would make their journey to Blåkulle – the Blue Mountain. It was a night of danger and evil, and Swedish people would bar their doors to their houses and barns and leave outside gifts that would make the witches’ journey easier – food, milk, clothes, broomsticks. Today, Swedes give the children sweets and money.

But why is it called Skärtorsdag’? The word ‘skär’ means ‘pink’. But does that make today Pink Thursday?

Actually not.

The word ‘skär’ has another, pre-Nordic meaning that is more relevant – ‘clean’.

If you know your bible stories, today being the day before Good Friday is the day when Jesus gathered his disciples together for the last supper, introduced communion, and was later betrayed by Judas, and condemned to death on the cross. It is the day evil was said to be released – hence the witches described earlier in this text.

Prior to the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And he washed them clean – a symbolic metaphor for purification and the washing away of sin.

So, today isn’t Pink Thursday – it’s Clean Thursday.

I’d better start mopping the kitchen floor then.

Sweden’s Got Talent


All over the world. the franchised talent shows ‘Country’s got talent’ and ‘X Factor’ unveil contestants with surprising talents. We all know about Paul Potts, Susan Boyle and recently the fantastic Sam Bailey in the UK, who caused a storm when they opened their mouths and sang. This storm was mostly caused by the contradiction of their appearances and their incredible singing capabilities. The same applied to America’s Got Talent’s sweet singing, musical goth by the name of Andrew de Leon.

What about Sweden then? The current series of ‘Talang’ has shown a breadth of skill and inventiveness but I’ve felt, in comparison to the UK and the USA, it’s all a bit amateur. Until last night. Up on the stage walked Glenn Edell,a seemingly shy unemployed father. He stood on the stage, shaking and opened his mouth to sing. And he proved that Sweden’s got talent.

Still, the surprise factor was lacking a little. Compare it to this fantastic 8 year old Norwegian girl Angelina Jordan who recently blew audiences away with her bluesy, jazz voice. She’s so good, you almost suspect foul play.

So, Sweden does got some talent. But does Norway got more?

Austrian stereotypes of Swedes

I was in Vienna at a wedding this weekend and mingled with the other guests. When they found out I lived in Sweden, they wanted to talk about Stockholm and Swedish people. They were very pleasant and what was interesting is how stereotypes persist. Amongst other stereotypes, they thought Swedes were reserved and formal. When I explained that maybe some are but it’s not the case entirely,they actually looked sceptical.

This is the funny thing about stereotypes – they’re often outdated and almost always wrong. How can a single characteristic be applied to 9,000,000 Swedes, or 70 million Brits, and still be accurate? Stereotypes can be fun to talk about but if we start believing them, we’re in trouble. Instead, let’s look at the individual to form our perceptions of that person (understanding we can still be wrong) and try to avoid sweeping condemnations of the collective. I think we’ll get a lot further in our cultural sensitivity that way.