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).

A New Sweden

A satirical cartoon drawn by German artist Harm Bengen shows Pippi Longstocking staring up at the Swedish flag – a flag that has turned into a Nazi swastika.

The picture is a comment on the fact that Sweden’s new coalition government rests on the support of a party founded by new nazis.

It is no coincidence that the picture shows Pippi Longstocking reacting. The beloved children’s character stands for everything that the new government isn’t – kindness, curiosity and courage. She stands up for the weak and the oppressed. The picture clearly illustrates this contrast, as well as the shift in Swedish society, and even the polarization that exists.

Sweden’s new conservative government only has 39% of the vote and are therefore reliant on support from a right-wing extreme party in order to govern. In the recent election, this party grew and have over 20%, making them Sweden’s second largest party. The new government is at their mercy – and cannot get anything done without their approval. And this is clear in many of the government’s policies.

This is the new Sweden. Pippi’s Sweden was post war – Europe had just defeated the nazis. And here we are, almost 80 years later. The majority of the Swedish people have handed power to a party that was built on nazi doctrine and is contaminated with nationalistic beliefs. I have never been more disappointed with Sweden than I am now.

But I do love democracy. And I guess this is what it is all about. Sometimes you like the result, and sometimes you really don’t.

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.

Songs about Sweden 5: Skåne

Ok I might have had to dig deep to find a song about the southern-most county of Sweden – Skåne. The classic song, from 1970, was a hit for legendary singer Siw Malmqvist, who is currently 85 years old.

The song called ‘Ingenting går upp mot gamla Skåne’ translates as ‘Nothing compares to good old Skåne’ and talks about how we love the place where we born. In the case of this song, Siw Malmqvist sings specifically about her home town of Landskrona.

Songs about Sweden 4: ‘Sverige’ (Sweden)

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

In 2002, the Swedish rock band Kent released a ballad called ‘Sverige’ (Sweden). it quickly shot up the charts and has, since then, become a popular track praising this country in the north. Many people feel that the song should be Sweden’s national anthem.

The song, written by Joakim Berg, includes a chorus with lyrics such as, ‘Welcome, welcome here, whoever you are. Whatever you are.’

In the last 20 years, the song has been covered by many other Swedish artists and continues to be successful in the Swedish charts.

Songs about Sweden 3: ‘Sweden’

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

The Northern Irish band, The Divine Comedy, headed by the singer Neil Hannon, released in 1998 the song ‘Sweden’. This bizarre song is about how the singer would like to retire to Sweden when his work is done.

The song includes lyrics such as ‘I am gonna live in Sweden. Please don’t ask me why. For if I were to give a reason. It would be a lie.’

Songs about Sweden 1: ‘Gothenburg’

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

First out is the song ‘Gothenburg’ by Maia Hirasawa. This 2007 single is from her debut album ‘Though I’m just me’ and is a tribute to Sweden’s second city.

Maia Hirasawa went on to become a prize-winning artist with several albums to her name. She tours regularly, and in October will be on tour in Japan, her father’s homeland.

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

Swedish politics week – a summer tradition

Once a year, with exception of the last two pandemic years, there is a summer politics week in Sweden. The week is happening now, the first since 2019. It takes place in a park called Almedalen on the Baltic island of Gotland, and attracts heavy media coverage.

During the week, the leaders of the eight parliamentary parties deliver speeches – their view of Sweden’s future. This year is especially interesting as there is a General Election in September. The Economy, Crime and Punishment and Education seem to be the top issues so far.

The Almedalen politics week started when legendary Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke publicly, from the back of a truck, during a summer visit to Gotland. It was at the end of the 60s and there was an audience of a few hundred people. It very quickly became a tradition.

Now Almedalen politics week attracts thousands of participants and is intended to involve the man on the street in politics and to protect the strong Swedish value of democracy and free speech. The idea is that at Almedalen politics week, we meet each other in debate. And in debate and discussion, we influence each other and our environment.

However, Almedalen Politics Week has also been heavily criticized for being elitist. The event has become a popular opportunity for businesses to meet and network with each other.

In a parallel existence, some people go to Almedalen only for this purpose and not to participate in any political activities. Social media has, in previous years, been awash with images of participants mingling, drinking rose wine, partying, dancing and taking drunken groupies.

Post Covid, we all have an opportunity to make changes. We don’t have to go back to the way things were before. The pandemic was a kind of system crash. It will be interesting to see how Almedalen politics week renews itself this year.