Sweden: the day before New Year’s Eve

New Years Eve is tomorrow – a Sunday. That means that it is not possible to buy alcohol as the shops controlled by the state-run alcohol monopoly are closed. If you want wine or spirits to toast in 2018, today is the last day to buy it. On a Sunday – no way! All over the country, Swedes thronged to buy their alcohol which resulted in queues and serious congestion. Here is a picture put up on Facebook today. A normal queue for the day I’m guessing – this one in Bromma in Stockholm.

What would you have done? Stayed in line or stormed off in a new year’s huff?!

Photo: Kim Nilsson

A literal Swedish Christmas

Swedish is often a very literal language. Yesterday, the 26th December, is a good example of that.

In the UK, the 26th December is known as ‘Boxing Day’. In many countries it’s St Stephen’s day – in Finland, it’s ‘Stefani Day’. In Ireland it’s ‘Wren’s Day’. In South Africa, it’s the ‘Day of Goodwill’.

And in Sweden? Well, here comes the literalness.

It’s called ‘Second Christmas Day’.

A Swedish Christmas tradition since 1960

In Sweden, since 1960, something has happened every day in the run up to Christmas. A tv series called ‘Julkalendern’ – Christmas calendar- is broadcast early in the mornings from Dec 1 to Dec 24. Sent in 15 minute episodes, it is a different story each year and often stars some of Sweden’s leading actors and comedians. It is very popular amongst children, and is a cozy seasonal tradition. After each episode, viewers can open the relevant door in their advent calendar, which accompanies the program. The stories can vary widely, but most usually there is a Christmas / winter theme and a moral message suited to the time of year.

‘Julkalendern’ sits deep in the souls and psyche of many Swedes. Most cherish fond childhood memories of getting up in the dark to watch an episode before heading off to school. In 1999, a competition was launched to identify the most popular ‘julkalender’ of all time. The winner was a spooky ghost story called ‘the mystery of Greveholm’. Closely behind were ‘Sune’s Christmas’, ‘The old woman who shrunk to the size of a teaspoon’ and ‘Magical times’.

This year, the story is called ‘Hunt for the crystal of time’ and is starring a very popular, recently-deceased Swedish actor as the obligatory evil bad guy. In the series, he plans to stop time the day before Christmas Eve and the only people who can stop him are three children who have to journey to the center of the universe to do so.

It’s all very exciting – what if they fail?! There will be no Christmas ever again!

We’d all better hope they succeed! In just 5 days, we’ll find out!!!!

‘Julkalendern’ can be watched on SvtPlay you’d like to catch up!

Swedish Music Aid

Children are not for sale!

Did you know that every minute, 4 children are sold into the sex industry around the world? An estimated 2,000,000 children are victims of sex trade and many more in human trafficking. These figures are hard to grasp, and even harder to process. Sexual trading of children can involve local boys who are abused by tourists, impoverished girls who are sold as sex slaves to rich families, or children who are ordered like fast food on the internet. The actions of the perpetrators are ruthless and the list of assaults is endless.

But we can do something about it.

‘Children are not for sale’ is the theme of this year’s charitable Music Aid (Musikhjälpen) project in Sweden. For the tenth year in a row, three radio hosts are locked into a glass cube for 6 days on a square in a town somewhere in Sweden. This year the event takes places in the northern city of Umeå, and the hosts broadcast music and tv non-stop day and night to gather donations for their good cause. To raise money one can, amongst other things, request a song, carry out a fund-raising action and bid in the various auctions that take place. This is Swedish solidarity at its very best.

Today, 17 Dec, is their final day of incarceration – the hosts are let out of their glass cube this evening and the total amount that has been raised will be announced. The millions of crowns that they gather will be spent on prevention of the child sex trade, protection of at-risk children and rehabilitation of children who have been victims.

It is still not too late for you to make a donation. Download the Musikhjälpen app (mh2017) and make a contribution! You can also go to http://www.musikhjalpen.se or find the same on Facebook. Every donation counts!

Your contribution can save a child from a terrible, terrible fate.

Please donate! Please share this blog with your friends and encourage them to do the same.

Lucia in the mile high club

Happy Lucia to you! Thought I would share a previous blog from 5 years ago. My most memorable Lucia morning ever!

After so many years in Sweden, I thought I’d seen every type of Lucia celebration there is to see. But, no, this week I experienced something completely new.

Santa Lucia is the saint who wakes Swedes up early in the morning of Dec 13th with candles in her hair. A tranquil tradition, Lucia literally brings the light to the dark country of Sweden.

This December 13th, I was flying back from New York. I, like all the other passengers, was dozing off in my chair when the sun started to slowly peek above the horizon. Then, slowly in the distance I started to hear quiet singing – Santa Lucia’s song. The singing got louder and I opened my eyes. And there she was, Lucia, walking the aisles with her maidens and disciples. All were carrying lights and lightening up the dimness of the cabin.

The cabin crew had dressed in the traditional white robes, and brought Lucia to the sleepy continental travellers, somewhere over the North Sea. Afterwards, they performed ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ and served the traditional ginger bisucuits and saffron buns.

Of all the Lucia celebrations I have seen, this has to be one of the most memorable.

Lucia is about lightening up the dark. This one was also about lightening our weary spirits.

Is Sweden functional but unfriendly?

Sweden is used to being at the top of most indexes relating to quality of life, equality, life experience. But not always, as the latest results from the Expat Insider 2017 survey might suggest. The survey looks at masses of elements related to the expat and relocation situation and views the world through expat eyes. The research surveys 65 countries and, in fairness, Sweden has improved from position 42 to 20 overall since 2016. Sweden scores well in travel and transport, safety and security, health and well-being.

So where does Sweden do badly? One of the elements that the survey looks at is ‘ease of settling in’. Here, Sweden doesn’t fare so well. For ‘feeling welcome’ Sweden ranks 51 out of 65 countries, for ‘friendliness’ 56, ‘language’ 15 and, wait for it, for ‘finding friends’ Sweden places 65! Last place. Interestingly Norway and Denmark are 63 and 64 respectively.

What could this tell us about Sweden? Or at least the expat’s experience of the country? Is Sweden seen as a healthy, systematic, safe but cold place? A functioning but unfriendly society?

I have to say that it is not my experience. I have found Swedes to be open and welcoming and I have a lot of great Swedish friends. Friends for life. So why does this survey suggest otherwise? What makes my experience so different from the people in this research? Does it depend on who you meet? Or on how open you are yourself? Is it different if you are single or in a couple? Are the big cities different from the smaller towns? I have no answer, but it is interesting to reflect over.

If you want to read the whole report, here it is:

https://cms-internationsgmbh.netdna-ssl.com/cdn/file/2017-09/Expat_Insider_2017_The_InterNations_Survey.pdf

Swedish malice on the underground

Travelling on the underground, I overhead a Swedish conversation between two people – one of them a spiteful 30-something woman. I say spiteful because she spent the entire journey demeaning and mocking their colleagues. It’s not often I hear such blatant malice so I became curious and listened carefully. Apparently, everyone in the office was a loser, annoying, boring and/or stupid. Nice person, I thought. However, one thing in particular triggered my curiosity.

As she spewed bile, she referred scornfully to one of their colleagues as ‘ you know Annika, she’s short, dumpy and wears office dresses’

What the hell is an ‘office dress’?!

I don’t care too much for that woman on the underground. But I do care about knowing what an ‘office dress’ is and why it’s degrading!

Can anybody can enlighten me, please do!