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 19: Julklappsrim

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 ‘Julklappsrim‘ which translates as ‘Christmas present rhyme’

If you receive a gift at Christmas time,

You’ll find in Sweden that it comes with a rhyme.

The packets are wrapped, the present to hide

And a poem describes all the contents inside.

You see, Swedes write poems on the label

Sometimes direct, sometimes a fable.

They sit in a workshop creating their verse,

It needs to be brief, but not at all terse.

The poem is read, the packet ripped open

And you see what you got, still leaves you hopin’

For a phone or a trip or a book about crime,

Wrapped up with a Swedish Christmas rhyme.

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 14: Lussekatt

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 ‘Lussekatt‘ which is a traditional saffron bun.

Generally, I love Swedish pastries but the lussekatt is not one of my favourites I’m sorry to say. However, the sight and smell of them screams Advent and Christmas in Sweden. The lussekatt, is a rich, spiced yeast-leavened sweet bun that is flavoured with saffron and contains raisins.

The buns are baked into many traditional shapes, of which the most common is a reversed S-shape. They are traditionally eaten during Advent, and especially on Saint Lucy’s Day, December 13. This could be the reason why it is called ‘lusse’ – a derivative of Lucy. However, there is a more sinister explanation.

In one theory, the lussekatt has its origins in Germany in the 1600’s. According to legend at that time, the devil used to appear as a cat, to torment children. To counteract this, people baked buns and colored them bright yellow to mimic the sun and scare away the devil. In West Sweden, the saffron buns were referred to as Devil’s buns and the theory is that the name Lussekatt, comes from the word Lucifer.

Whatever the origin, the lussekatt remains a clear favourite in Sweden to eat at Christmas with pepparkaka and washed down with glögg.

If you’d like to bake your own lussekatt, you can find a recipe here

Watching the Swedes Advent Calendar – Dec 11: Nubbe

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 ‘Nubbe‘ which is the colloquial word for an alcoholic shot known as snaps.

Nubbe, or snaps, is a really popular drink that Swedes enjoy at Christmas time. At its base, it is a strong spirit (30-38% alcohol content) called ‘brännvin’ which is distilled from potatoes or grain.

It can be plain and colourless, or flavoured with herbs and spices. Sometimes it can be sweet and infused with, for example blackcurrant, elderflower or raspberry. Others can be so bitter they make your toes curl – flavoured with for example aniseed, wort or wormwood. If it includes caraway or dill, it can according to EU patent protection be called akvavit.

A mouthful-size of ‘brännvin’ is called a snaps or a nubbe and it is drunk out of small glasses. Usually it is consumed when eating traditional food, and may also be accompanied by a ‘snapsvisa’ – a drinking song.

One popular drinking song at Christmas is called ‘Hej Tomtegubbar‘ which translates roughly as:

‘Hello goblins, fill your glasses and let’s be jolly together.

Hello goblins, fill your glasses and let’s be jolly together.

Our time is brief upon the earth, with many troubles and little mirth

Hello goblins, fill your glasses and let’s be jolly together.

After a few snapses, the party atmosphere usually begins – with more singing, speeches and maybe even some dancing. For Swedes, snaps is such an important tradition that it is drunk not only at Christmas but at most festive times – such as Easter, Midsummer and autumn’s crayfish party.

According to The Swedish alcohol monopoly, Swedes have been flavouring their ‘brännvin’ since the 1500’s and the word ‘Nubbe’ as a slang word for snaps turned up first in 1892.

WtS Advent Calender Dec 2 – Pepparkaka

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar

Every day leading up to Christmas, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘pepparkaka‘, which translates as gingerbread.

Other than glögg, nothing else is more synonymous with the Swedish festive season than pepparkaka (gingerbread). The Swedish version of gingerbread comes in the form of thin crispy biscuits flavoured with cinnamon, cardamon, ginger and cloves. Formed in different shapes such as hearts, trees, and stars, gingerbread is eaten plain or decorated with icing. Many people buy squeezy blue cheese in a tube and squirt it onto the biscuit before consumption. Some people build gingerbread houses as part of their Christmas decorations.

Making your own pepparkaka is a cosy a Christmas tradition – here is a typical recipe. However, most people buy their gingerbread ready-made.

Pepparkaka has been associated with Christmas in Sweden since the 1800’s but was eaten much earlier than that. The first documented record of pepparkaka in Sweden is from 1335 for a royal wedding. In a recipe from the 1400’s, gingerbread included pepper, which could be why it has the name pepparkaka. But nobody is really sure.

Ever wondered why Swedish people are so nice? Well, the answer lies in an old myth – apparently the very eating of pepparkaka is what makes you nice.

WtS Advent Calendar Dec 1 – Glögg

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar

Every day leading up to Christmas, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season. Today’s word is the fantastic-to-say ‘glögg‘. (Pronounced ‘glugg’)

Glögg is festive Swedish mulled wine: heated wine, most commonly red, with spices. It is drunk together with almonds and raisins added in. And it is delicious! Glögg is very popular, having been drunk in Sweden around Christmas since the 1890’s. However, the earliest record of drinking heated wine dates back to the 1500’s. The word glögg comes from the Old Swedish word ‘glödg’, and the verb ‘glögda’ – to heat up. This, in turn, has its origins in the verb glöder (to glow).

Some make their own glögg, here is a typical recipe.

But most people buy their glögg ready-made in a bottle. In addition to the traditional flavours, each year a new flavour of the nectar is released and there’s always a debate regarding its success. This year’s glögg (2019) is called Aloha and is an infusion of passion fruit, hibiscus, coconut and coffee. Yummy!

Swedish Saints, Souls and shimmering cemeteries

Swiping through social media channels, it’s clear to see that dressing up as witches, vampires and other ghoulish things has become increasing popular in Sweden. Halloween parties are scheduled, not just on the 31st October, but at any time over the few weeks at the end of October and beginning of November.

I’m casting no shade over the masquerade, but personally I am much more enchanted by the traditional Swedish way of celebrating this time of year – it is so serene and reflective.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day – not necessarily November 1st as in most other countries. In 1983, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day was given the official name 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.

It is a beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In pitch black November, it is a shimmering reminder of those who have gone before us. Individual graves blink in the Nordic darkness, and memory groves blaze with the collective light of hundreds of flames.

If you are in Sweden today, go to a cemetery. If you happen to be in Stockholm, head for the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience.