Why do Swedes have a winter sport break? 

Around this time of the year, schools have a week’s holiday. Called Sportlov it’s a traditional time for a winter sport break. 

This tradition was introduced in 1940 and was initially a way to save energy. Heating up schools cost money and, due to rationing, councils were instructed to drastically reduce their heating expenses. To give the pupils something meaningful to do while the school was shut, the authorities organised various activities, many focused on being outdoors and exercising. During the 50’s, experts realised that infection spread less widely at this time of the year if schools were closed for a week. So the winter sport break became cemented and an official disease control method. 

Nowadays, many families head off to the mountains to go skiing, some head off to the Alps for the same purpose.

For those of us left in town, it’s sheer bliss. 

There is hardly anybody on the buses and tube, traffic is significantly thinner and less noisy and it’s easy to get a seat at lunch time. 

And the fact that there are hardly any children in town means the rest of us don’t get infected with kid flu bacteria on our way to work. 

Swedish life balance

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It’s said that Swedes have an enviable work life balance and this festive season has been no exception. Similar to many countries, Christmas and New Year are both bank holidays in Sweden. Similar to a few countries, today is also a bank holiday – kings’ day, epiphany or the twelfth day of Christmas. Biblically it signifies the arrival of the three wise men and the baptism of Jesus. Secularly, it means another day off for most people.

This festive season has been a great opportunity for time off. By taking only 5 days’ holiday, workers have been able to be off for two and a half weeks. And with 8 days’ holiday – 3 weeks off was the reward.

A strong belief in work life balance is behind this. In general, Swedes work really hard and are dedicated. Coupled with the darkness at this time of the year, many people are exhausted by the time Christmas comes around. A long break is seen as a necessary way to recharge batteries, and regain motivation. There’s a great Swedish word that you frequently hear after these long breaks – people describe themselves as ‘utvilade’. This translates as ‘thoroughly rested’, and is essential to survive the long, dingy winter season.