Sweden’s Freedom of Expression – a cornerstone of democracy.

Given recent provocative manifestations, some people are starting to question Sweden’s freedom of expression laws. This criticism is even being used as a way to prevent the ratification of Sweden’s membership of NATO.

English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire – ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. This phrase is frequently used to describe the principal of freedom of speech.

Sweden’s democracy is built on the principle of freedom of expression. It is a fundament of society, together with freedom of information, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of assembly. The individual’s right to freedom of religion is also strongly protected by the Constitution. Freedom of Expression is also enshrined as Article 10 in the Human Rights Act.

There are people in Sweden with, in my opinion, disgusting views, who manifest these in public demonstrations. However, under Swedish law, they have a right to express what they believe. I don’t have to agree with what they believe – that is also my right.

Sweden’s freedom of expression is a ‘constitutionally protected right including the right to express thoughts, opinions and feelings through speech, writing or images without interference by the authorities.’

Freedom of expression does not however mean the freedom to always say practically anything at all. For example, this freedom ‘does not extend to slander or committing an act involving threats or agitation against a national or ethnic group. On the other hand, religions as such are not protected against expressions of opinion that challenge religious messages or that may be perceived as hurtful to believers.’

To be honest, I would probably prefer some conservative opinions not to be expressed, as I feel they are deliberately provocative and lead to agitation and unrest. However, without a doubt, I would rather live in a country where individuals are free to express what they think, than in a country where religious or political powers suppress this.

If we start to limit freedom of expression, and censor opinion, we are dismantling our democracy. And where does it end? We don’t have to look very far to get the answer…..

Sweden’s Freedom of Expression – a cornerstone of democracy.

Given recent provocative manifestations, some people are starting to question Sweden’s freedom of expression laws. This criticism is even being used as a way to prevent the ratification of Sweden’s membership of NATO.

English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire – ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. This phrase is frequently used to describe the principal of freedom of speech.

Sweden’s democracy is built on the principle of freedom of expression. It is a fundament of society, together with freedom of information, freedom to demonstrate and freedom of assembly. The individual’s right to freedom of religion is also strongly protected by the Constitution. Freedom of Expression is also enshrined as Article 10 in the Human Rights Act.

There are people in Sweden with, in my opinion, disgusting views, who manifest these in public demonstrations. However, under Swedish law, they have a right to express what they believe. I don’t have to agree with what they believe – that is also my right.

Sweden’s freedom of expression is a ‘constitutionally protected right including the right to express thoughts, opinions and feelings through speech, writing or images without interference by the authorities.’

Freedom of expression does not however mean the freedom to always say practically anything at all. For example, this freedom ‘does not extend to slander or committing an act involving threats or agitation against a national or ethnic group. On the other hand, religions as such are not protected against expressions of opinion that challenge religious messages or that may be perceived as hurtful to believers.’

To be honest, I would probably prefer some conservative opinions not to be expressed, as I feel they are deliberately provocative and lead to agitation and unrest. However, without a doubt, I would rather live in a country where individuals are free to express what they think, than in a country where religious or political powers suppress this.

If we start to limit freedom of expression, and censor opinion, we are dismantling our democracy. And where does it end? We don’t have to look very far to get the answer…..

Sweden’s 20th day of Christmas – it’s officially over!

Today is the official last day of Christmas in Sweden. Known as ‘Tjugondedag jul’ (twentieth day of Christmas) or ‘tjugodag Knut’ (twentieth day Knut), it marks the twentieth, and final, day of the festive season.

The name ‘Knut’ comes from the fact that today is St Knut’s Day in Sweden – commemorating the Danish king who was assassinated in 1131. One of laws Knut introduced was that nobody should fast during twenty days of Christmas, and that January 13 was the official end of the period.

In Sweden, today is the day when Christmas should be ‘danced out’. Traditionally, the Christmas tree is removed in a process called ‘julgransplundring’ (Christmas tree plundering), in which Swedes remove decorations, eat the edible ones, dance around the tree and throw it out. This is known as the St Knut’s Party and originated in the mid 1800’s.

On a more practical note, the discarded Christmas trees are gathered by the local councils and burned to provide heating or used on the traditional bonfires in April.

Sweden’s 3 wisest men

Today is Twelfth Night, called ‘Trettondagsafton’ in Swedish. Tomorrow is Epiphany and in Sweden, like many places around the world, it is a National Holiday – ‘Trettondagen’. (6 January)

In Sweden, not a lot happens on this day. Unlike the southern parts of Europe where it is the beginning of the carnival season, in the frozen north it is just another day off.

The day celebrates the arrival of the three wise men to Bethlehem to visit the savior in his cradle. These three wise men are said to represent the three continents of Europe, Africa and Asia.

This got me thinking about Sweden’s three wisest living men. Here is my triad – a highly subjective list of names! Who would you add to this list?

Wise man number 1 – Jan Eliasson. A Swedish diplomat who has been Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sweden’s Foreign Minister and the Chairman of the International Peace Research Institute. He has worked to resolve conflict in Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Kongo, Sudan, Israel – amongst others. Since 2017, there is a Global Leadership Prize named after him.

Wise man number 2 – Anders Hansen. A Swedish psychiatrist, doctor and brain expert. He has written numerous books on how our brain works and led several tv programs on the subject. He has been given several awards, amongst them the Mensa Prize. He is an ambassador for Generation Pep – a non profit organisation that focuses on the mental health and well-being of young people.

Wise man number 3 – Micael Dahlen. A Swedish economist, and Professor at Stockholm School of Economics. His most popular books are Kaosologi, Nextopia and Monster. Kaosologi is about how to change habits, Nextopia is about what he calls ‘expectation society’ and Monster is about his research and interviews with 5 serial killers. He is the only Swede to have interviewed Charles Manson. He is on the board of numerous organisations and has won many awards. He is a popular lecturer, and advisor.

While these three wise men wouldn’t bring gold, frankincense and myrrh, they would bring peace-keeping, mental health and mind-boggling theories.

5 ways that the Vikings impact Christmas

Long before the Christianity swept over Europe, the Norse people celebrated the Midwinter Solstice in a festival called Yòl. (Yule/jul). Eventually this festival blended with Christmas and gave us many of the traditions we have today.

So, what are 5 ways in which the Norse traditions impacted Christmas?

1) Father Christmas – Odin, King of the Norse Gods, was a bearded old man in a hat and cloak. He rode Sleipnir – an 8-legged horse – across the night sky and delivered gifts to those below. This morphed into the Christian St Nicholas, and 8 reindeer to complete the saga of Santa.

2) The Twelve Days of Christmas – the ancient Norse celebrated their midwinter festival for twelve days, beginning on the day of the winter solstice. It was believed that Odin rode the sky for these 12 days so it was forbidden to hang out laundry in case he got entangled. This was known as ‘the Great Hunt’.

3) Christmas Tree – many of us know that the indoor Christmas tree originates in Germany and was made popular in the Victorian era. However, it in fact pre-dates this. The Norse people believed that evergreens were the divine plant of their sun God Balder (the son of Odin) because they remained green though-out the winter. They took this as a sign that spring was advancing. To encourage the oncoming season, they would decorate the branches of the trees with ornaments, runes and offerings of food. With Christianity, these decorations became stars, and other biblical symbols.

4) Christmas Elf – no story of Santa’s workshop is complete without his little helpers. In Norse mythology, there is the ‘nisse’ or ‘tomte’. These little creatures were small, bearded and wore little pointy hats. They were believed to live in the barns in the farmstead and they would guard the property and the inhabitants, and even fix broken things. They were loyal and industrious but you had to treat them with respect, otherwise their vengeance would be swift and angry. They also loved playing practical jokes and mischief, rather like the elves in Santa’s workshop. The word ‘elf’ comes from the Norse word álfar, which means ‘concealed people’.

5) Mistletoe – ever kissed somebody under the mistletoe? In doing so, you have fulfilled a Norse legend. In the legend, the God Balder had been prophesied to die. His mother, Frigg, in desperation, secured an oath from everything that they would not hurt him. However, she forgot to ask the mistletoe. The envious God Loki carved an arrow out of mistletoe and killed Balder. Frigg’s tears of sorrow fell onto the mistletoe turning the red berries white, and resurrected her son. She then vowed to kiss anybody who passed underneath it, and the plant came to represent love and renewal.

Another Norse influence on our Christmas celebrations is the Christmas Goat. The goat has lost its significance in most countries, but is still a symbol in Scandinavia, where it is a decoration made of straw. The goat originates in Norse tradition from the kid goat that was sacrificed in honour of Njord, the God of the Sea, the Weather and Prosperity. Later on, in Sweden, the Yule goat was believed to be an invisible spirit that would appear before Christmas to make sure that the holiday preparations were done correctly. Eventually, the goat took on the role of the gift giver, instead of or together with Santa Claus (called Jultomten in Swedish).

Other traditions that originate from the Norse jòl are the Christmas Ham, the Yule Log, the Yule Wreath, and Christmas caroling, or ‘wassailing’.

So, while the message of Christmas is the Christian story, many of the surrounding symbols and traditions are in fact from another source altogether.

Sweden’s Lucia Celebration

At the darkest time of the year, Santa Lucia (St Lucy) pays us a visit early in the morning on December 13th. Lucia has candles in her hair and is surrounded by her handmaidens and boys, and shines light into the dark depths of our spirits. 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 tradition 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 most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students. The regional Lucias will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread.

Not only does Lucia represent tradition, but there is also a symbolic meaning. Never more important than this year when the world is in turmoil. So remember, it might be cold and dark right now, but after the darkness comes the light.

Spectacular Swedish serenity on All Saints’ Day

I remember walking around Stockholm when I had recently moved here. It was a pitch black Saturday evening in November, cold and crisp. As I approached a majestic church, I noticed that it was shimmering from the graveyard.

This yellow and white light slowly flickered and cast shadows on the gravestones and the church wall. As if drawn by a magic spell, I walked up to the church and looked over the wall. The sight that met my eyes was spectacular and serene at the same time. Hundreds of candles were spread around the cemetery, decorating each of the graves. In the memory grove a bright blazing blanket of candles lit up the area. It was as if the spirits of the dead had come out to play.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day (the following Sunday is called All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead).

Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light and to pay respect to the dead. It is a much more elegant and atmospheric tradition than the typical Halloween parties that otherwise have become very popular in Sweden.

It is a truly beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In the pitch black November Nordic darkness, it is a peaceful reminder of those who have gone before us. So head for your nearest cemetery this evening and, if you happen to be in Stockholm, go to the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience (pictured below).

The Swedish Armed Forces at Pride

Several advertisements appeared in today’s newspapers in Sweden. The ads, from the Swedish Armed Forces, show how they support equal rights and will be participating in Stockholm Pride which starts tomorrow. This is one of the reasons I am proud to have Swedish citizenship.

The advert reads:

”MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN EVER. Uncertain times do not mean we stop defending human rights, everyone’s equal value and your right to live as who you are. That’s why we’re participating in Pride, this year again.”

Flying the Swedish Goose Boat

In the south of Sweden, the port town of Trelleborg is the largest working harbour in Scandinavia. From here, passenger ferries take you to Germany, Poland and Lithuania.

Each of the ferries is named after a character from a children’s book, for example Peter Pan, Huckleberry Finn and Robin Hood. The ferry I travelled a few days ago to Germany was called Nils Holgersson.

Who, you might wonder, is Nils Holgersson? The character comes from a book called ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils’. It was published in 1906 by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

In the story, Nils Holgersson is a naughty boy who is shrunk to a tiny size, and who tours the counties of Sweden in the back of a goose. It is an educational book about Sweden’s geography but also full of drama, intrigue and adventure. I recommend reading it.

On the ferry there was actually a statue of Nils. Looking a little freaky, and without any explanation, I am certain it confused many of the non-Swedish passengers.

Ten Hollywood Film Stars of Swedish Descent

During the mid to late 1800’s, a staggering 1.2 million Swedes emigrated to the USA for a better life. Based on the 1950’s novel series by Vilhelm Moberg, the 2021 film ‘The Emigrants’ depicts this period.

It is hardly surprising then that Swedish DNA is mixed into the diverse genetic melting pot in America.

With this in mind, there are many stars who are proud of their Swedish heritage. Some, you could guess their ancestry by their names. Others not so much. But all of them certainly inherited the beautiful Swedish gene. Here are ten of them:

Julia Roberts – het great grandmother was born in the county of Värmland

Matt Damon – his grandmother was Swedish

Kirsten Dunst – has several generations of Swedes on her mother’s side

James Franco – has Swedish roots on his father’s side

Jake Gyllenhaal – his great grandfather was Swedish. He is also a part of a Swedish noble family.

Emma Stone – had a Swedish grandfather

Michelle Pfeiffer – her great grandmother emigrated from county Småland

Uma Thurman – her grandmother was Swedish, from county Skåne. She also speaks some Swedish.

Mark Wahlberg – his grandfather was Swedish.

Candice Bergen – her grandparents were Swedish