Last night, the final of Sweden’s ‘Melodifestivalen’ took place. The winner gets sent to the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool in May. Many Swedes take this competition very seriously – the process of selection takes 6 weeks!
But finally, last night, the victor was crowned. The winner this year was Loreen – again. Loreen won Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 for Sweden with the fantastic song Euphoria.
After two failed attempts, she finally gets to once again represent Sweden 2023 with the song Tattoo. The song, along with her performance and the tv production is a very strong contender to take home the victory. Many Swedes are already feeling triumphant. But Eurovision is often an unpredictable animal – since musical taste levels between the competing countries vary drastically. What is popular in the Nordic countries is usually not as popular in, for example, the Balkans.
So the question remains, will Loreen deliver Sweden’s 7th victory and thereby equal the record for most victories currently held by Ireland?
In Sweden recently, a man accused of rape was acquitted by a panel of judges over a word. The victim, a 10-year old girl, accused the 50-year old man of putting a finger inside her ‘snippa’.
Reportedly, the judges were unfamiliar with the word and looked it up in a dictionary. In the dictionary, ‘snippa’ is defined as ‘the outside part of female genitalia’. Because if this, the judges freed the 50-year old man, as the Swedish definition of rape requires a physical penetration.
This has caused an enormous outcry in Sweden. A viral hashtag has appeared called #jagvetvadensnippär or ’I know what a snippa is’. The debate is inflamed in main stream and social media.
Although defined in one way in the dictionary, the word ‘snippa’ is taught and commonly used to mean vagina, and not only vulva. A 10-year old girl would definitely use this word to describe her vagina – and in this case she also clearly used the preposition ‘inside’. It is unlikely she would use the Latin word vagina, or the significantly more adult word ‘slida’.
This case casts a light on what can happen when a board of judges is out of touch with reality, or when the legal system does not use the same language as the general population.
It is a huge concern that a group of middle-aged men are incapable of equating the word ‘snippa’ and the proposition ‘inside’ – especially when expressed by a child. It seriously feels like they all need some education in female anatomy as well as in linguistics.
This case shows us, yet again, how the legal system places the responsibility to prove guilt on the victim of the crime and not the perpetrator – ‘she didn’t express herself clearly’, ‘she wore provocative clothes’, ‘she used the wrong word’, ‘she’d been drinking’, ‘she didn’t say no’.
We will see what the long-reaching consequences of this decision are. Hopefully an appeal will come, and hopefully a modernisation of the legal system. As they say, watch this space….
Today it’s ‘Fat Tuesday’ in Sweden, known as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras around the world.
While in the UK we eat pancakes (today is even called Pancake Day) and in Latin America they scoff down fried bread, Swedes celebrate by eating the traditional cream Lent bun – the ‘semla’. 40 million of them every year! I’m also clearly going to indulge. In fact, my mouth is watering just writing this post.
The semla is a creamy bun filled with delicious almond paste. Traditionally, they were only eaten in Sweden to commemorate the start of Lent and the great Fast, leading up to Easter. In the south of Sweden, they still refer to them as ‘fastlagsbullar’ – Shrovetide buns. Nowadays however, semlas are usually sold anytime between Christmas and Easter.
I just love them. I could eat a barrel load. But I’d end up looking like a barrel if I did. I love the taste of them, and the feeling of luxurious indulgence. I also love the knowledge that as you take a bite into a creamy semla, you are biting into over 500 years’ history of Scandinavian baking.
The word ‘semla’ comes from the Latin ‘simila’ which means fine flour and originally referred just to the bun without any filling. As long ago as the 1500’s, bakers started to hollow out the middle of the bun and fill it with cream and butter. As ingredients became more available, bakers started adding almond and cardemon and the type of semla that we know today developed towards the end of the 1800’s. After rationing of sugar and dairy products ceased at the end of WW2, the semla took off and became very popular.
Newspapers often have the ‘Semla of the Year’ award, and nominate the best semla in town. Consequently, Swedes flock like sugar-addicted lemmings to the winning bakery, and you can stand in a queue for an hour to get your hands on one.
Nowadays the semla trend has reached new heights. Every year bakers around the country try to launch new types of semla, with their own spin on it -for example, the semla wrap, the semla burger, the semla layer cake, the semla cocktail, semla ice cream, semla nachos, semla langos, the chocolate semla, the vanilla semla, the lactose-free, gluten-free vegan semla. In 2021, the gross-sounding fermented Baltic herring semla was revealed.
But I’m a traditionalist in this matter. Give me a round fluffy cardemon-scented wheat bun brimming over with whipped cream and almond paste.
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…..
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.
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.
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!
Swedish is often a very literal language. Today, 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’.
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.
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’.