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.

Swedish New Year’s pizza – with cabbage! 


Today, January 1st, is the most popular day to eat take-away pizza in Sweden. Partly it’s easy to order but also its greasiness acts as a great remedy for sore heads and tired bodies.

The Vesuvio and the Capricciosa are very popular pizzas in Sweden. However, the number 1 ‘national pizza’ is the Kebab pizza – a greasy pizza with kebab meat dumped on the top.

When you order a pizza in Sweden, you will also experience a very strange bedfellow.

In Sweden, pizza is served with complimentary salad, in both restaurants and take aways. This salad is called creatively –  ‘pizza salad’ and is made of cabbage. It is a kind of coleslaw with white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oil. It’s fresh, crispy and a bit weird. 

This odd combination is as far as I know only offered in the Nordic countries and its origin is a bit unclear.

One theory is that when the first pizzerias opened in Sweden, the traditional tomato salad wasn’t an option due to the climate in the winter. So, subsequently the pizza baker decided to use a more available, local vegetable – the cabbage – inspired by the Croatian salad ‘kupus salata’. 

Whatever it’s origin, the pizza salad is so ingrained in the Swedish mentality, it’s become a cultural ‘classic’.  In fact, it’s hard to imagine a pizza without cabbage salad in Sweden. Especially on New Year’s Day!

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.

Why is Christmas called ‘Jul’ in Swedish?

While the English word Christmas (Christ’s mass), and the German Weihnachen (Holy Night) are clearly connected to the celebrated Christian birth, the Swedish word ‘Jul’ has a much more vague origin.

Like with the English word ‘yule’, experts do not fully agree on where it originates. However, it is deemed likely that it comes from the Proto-Germanic word ‘jehwla’ which could have meant ‘party’ or ‘celebration’.

The word was taken early into the Nordics via the Old Finnish language in the form of ‘juhla’ meaning ‘festival’, and then again as ‘joulu’ meaning ‘jul’. There was already a big celebration of the winter solstice and the winter hunt around this time that was given the name ‘jol’ in Old Norse.

After the surge of Christianity through Europe in the 900’s, England and Germany aligned their word for Christmas, but in the Nordics they kept word ‘jul’. Instead they scheduled their pagan celebrations to occur at the same time as the Christian one, and eventually the two melted together. In the Nordic countries, we still see elements of the pagan ‘jol’ at Christmas time with the ‘Christmas goat’ for example.

In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, Christmas is called ‘jul’. In Finland, it is called ‘joulou’. In Iceland it is called ‘Jol’ and in Estonia, ‘joulud’.

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.”

Songs about Sweden 2: ‘Stockholm tonight’

There have been many songs written about Sweden and Swedish towns. In this series, I will share a few with you.

The second is a song in Swedish called ‘Stockholm inatt’, which translates as ‘Stockholm tonight’. The original song was released in 2007 by artist Peter Jöback, and is about a night out in central Stockholm. The lyrics take in classic locations and venues in the city.

However, it was covered in 2021 by soul singer Cherrie in a tribute show where artists interpret each other’s songs. She modernized the lyrics and placed the song partially in the suburbs of Stockholm. This re-working gave the song a huge renaissance, and a hit for Cherrie.

11 hacks for surviving Swedish midsummer

With Midsummer arriving tomorrow, it is time to start planning for your survival. Midsummer’s Eve is the craziest custom in the Swedish calender and the time of the year when Swedes go a little bonkers. As a non-Swede, get ready to brace yourself.

Since we are not fully out of the pandemic, it is important to wash hands regularly and keep a physical distance. Apart from these guidelines, here are a few more hacks to make sure you make it to Midsummer’s Day in one piece.

Greet like a Swede. In Sweden it is considered polite to greet everybody individually, even if you plan to never speak to them again or remember their name. The appropriate way is to stand 1-2 meters away, look directly in their eyes, say ‘hej’ followed by your name. They will do the same. You might even give a small wave or shake hands if you are comfortable doing so. If you are feeling adventurous, follow up your ‘Hej’ with a ‘trevligt’ or even a ‘Glad Midsommar’. Job done. Now you can hit the booze.

Snaps is not the same as a shot. A lot of alcohol gets drunk on Midsummer’s Eve, especially beer and snaps With the popularity of shots in recent years, it’s easy to make the mistake that Swedish snaps is the same thing. Believe me, it is not. Snaps can be up to 40% proof, considerably more than your normal shot. So, go easy and sip the snaps or see yourself slipping sideways off your chair before the strawberry dessert has even been put on the table.

Take tissue. Midsummer’s Eve is a looong day and you probably will need the loo at some point. The trouble is, so will everybody else – to the detriment of the supply of toilet paper. There’s a big chance you will be seeking relief in the woods so come equipped with the appropriate amounts of paper for your needs.

If shy, bring swimwear. Bathing in the icy June waters is a common activity at Midsummer. Swedes generally are not afraid of skinny dipping when they do this. If you are, then come prepared with swimwear and a towel.

Shelve your maturity. Part of Midsummer is dancing around the maypole, playing silly games, pretending to be a frog, participating in competitions. To survive these activities, it helps to conjour up your inner child and forget you are an adult for a while.

Protect yourself. Given the amount of alcohol consumed at Midsummer, it is no surprise that the many babies in Sweden are made on this day. It you don’t want to join the ranks of parents, remember to put it on before you put it in.

Throw in the thermals. It looks like it might be super sunny and warm this Midsummer’s Eve. One of the warmest ever! But it is good to be prepared. It is not unusual that temperatures fall into single figures and that pesky rain pours down onto the smorgasbord. So bring a jumper, a rain jacket and even thermals to enhance your experience.

Don’t expect culinary miracles on Midsummer’s Eve. The food is exactly the same as is eaten at Christmas and Easter, with a few small summery exceptions – strawberries, cream, dill and new potatoes. Remember to use hand disinfectant before you attack the buffet.

Learn a drinking song. On Midsummer’s Eve, food and alcohol is accompanied by Swedish drinking songs. Learn one in advance and shine at the table. Even better sing one in your own language and you are guaranteed to use those rubbers you packed just for the occasion. For me, ‘what shall we do with the drunken sailor’ works every time.

Argue over the rules. At Midsummer a popular Swedish garden game is called kubb. Involving the throwing of sticks, everybody seems to have their own understanding of the way to play. If you want to feel really Swedish, make sure you start an argument about the rules.

Take pills. Of varying types. Allergy pills are good because there are flowers everywhere: on the table, in the maypole, on peoples’ heads. Pain killers are good as a lot of snaps is consumed. Indigestion pills are good as the food is oily, fatty, acidic, smoky and rich. The after day pill is good, well… because…

That’s it! Follow this guide and you are sure to have a wonderous Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden.

Glad Midsommar!

Please share this post to help others get ready for the big day!

World Book Day – and my book on Sweden

Today is UNESCO World Book Day, to celebrate books and promote reading. The 23 April is a significant day as it commemorates the death of many famous writers such as William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.

Every year a World Book Capital is nominated. The first one, in 2001, was Madrid, Spain. This year it is Guadalajara in Mexico.

So today is a good day to buy a book, or to gift one. If you know anybody who is interested in learning about Sweden, or planning on visiting Sweden, then my guide book is a good match! I published it in 2021.

You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021. You can also buy it straight from the publisher at http://www.culturesmartbooks.co.uk

I still have a few copies left, so if you’d like to buy a signed copy, just let me know!