A literal Swedish Christmas

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’.

And in Sweden? Well, here comes the literalness.

It’s called ‘Second Christmas Day’.

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’.

50 Swedish words for snow

A massive amount of snow has landed on Stockholm over the weekend – and it is still tumbling down. So, I thought it’s worth sharing this list again.

Not surprisingly when living in a country where it snows a lot, people start to see differences and nuances in the type of snow, whereas in English the word might just be an unsatisfactory ‘snow’.

The Swedish language makes it easy to join words together to describe these nuances.

Here is a list of 50 Swedish words related to snow.

1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to superstition, signifies plenty of food for the coming season
4) Hårdsnö – compacted hard snow
5) Konstsnö – artificial snow
6) Kramsnö – squeezy snow, perfect for making snowballs
7) Julesnö – snow at Christmas
8) Klabbsnö – wet, warm snow for building snowmen
9) Kolsyresnö – frozen carbondioxide
10) Kornsnö – small white snow breadcrumbs
11) Lappvante – thick, falling snow
12) Lössnö – snow that can loosen and be dangerous
13) Majsnö – surprising and unwelcome snow in May
14) Modd – snow that has partly melted due to salt
15) Natursnö – real snow (as opposed to artificial)
16) Nysnö – fresh snow, crisp and white
17) Pudersnö – powder snow
18) Rekordsnö – an unusual amount of snow, breaking previous snow records
19) Slask – slushy snow mixed with rain and dirt on the ground
20) Snö – snow
21) Snöblandat regn – snow mixed with rain
22) Muohta – the Sami word for snow (it is said the Sami actually have 200 words for snow!)
23) Snörök – faint particles of snow that look like smoke
24) Yrsnö – snow being whipped around by the wind in all directions
25) Åsksnö – snow that pours down during a thunder storm

26) Snökanon – the word for the snow canon that creates artificial snow on ski slopes has also come to mean a sudden blast of snow that suddenly hits a place, and feels like snow has been dumped on you.

27) Jungfrusnö – virgin snow

28) Snösmocka – a huge amount of snow

29) Snötäcke – snow on the ground

30) Sjösnö – snow over the sea that can roll in over land

31) Snöfall – snow in the air

32) Flingsnö – snow with larger crystals

33) Skarsnö – a crispy surface on a blanket of snow

34) Packsnö – thickly packed snow

35) Pärlsnö – snow like small pearls that hurts when it hits your face

36) Snöglopp – wet snow mixed with rain

37) Spårsnö – snow that allows footprints to be formed

38) Fjöcksnö – a light, fluffy snow

39) Flister – snow the consistency of salt that stings the face when it falls

40) Flaksnö – a sheet of snow

41) Upplega – snow on the upper side of a tree branch

42) Firn – liquid-like snow that can initiate an avalanche

43) Fimmel – sandy snow that falls at low temperatures

44) Själja – a thin layer of ice on top of the snow that resembles glass

45) Knarrsnö – crispy snow that creaks when you walk on it

46) Snöfyk – wet snow

47) Torrsnö – dry snow

48) Månsilver – a poetic word to describe the dusting of snow

49) Snöis – snow on cold water that forms an icy solid surface

50) Stöp – a mixture of snow and ice resembling porridge that forms on top of cold water

So, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

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 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 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.

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.

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!

The Swedish Easter egg

In the UK, Easter eggs are usually bought ready-made. The big egg is itself made of chocolate, and inside is a small bag of more chocolates. It is wrapped in colourful packaging, and marketed around a particular brand of chocolate such as Maltesers, or Buttons or Dairy Milk.

For me that was what an Easter egg liked like. Until I moved to Sweden. Here, Easter eggs look quite different. The Swedish egg is usually an inedible cardboard egg, emblazoned with colourful Easter motifs. It can also be made of tin or porcelain. So, the egg itself is also the packaging. Inside the egg, is pick ‘n’ mix, usually consisting of a few candied eggs and other well-chosen sweets such as cola bottles, sour dummies and fudge. This style of Easter egg was actually also popular in the UK around the reign of Queen Victoria.

Giving Easter eggs as gifts in Sweden became popular in the 1800’s and was facilitated by the paper-making industry. Although decorating eggs dates further back, to the 1600’s, when Swedes would paint eggs to celebrate the spring.

Whatever the type of egg the Easter bunny brings you this year, I hope you enjoy it!

Happy Easter!

‘Long’ Friday in Sweden

Today, Good Friday, is called ‘Long Friday’ in Swedish – ‘Långfredag’. It commemorates the long day and the long suffering that Jesus endured on the cross, according to Christian teachings. It is a public holiday, and for many years, everything was closed in Sweden making the day long and boring for many people. Now, most things are open.

‘Long Friday’ is a day of cooking, shopping and going for walks. Some people attend church services. Tomorrow, Easter Saturday, is the normal day of celebration when Swedes gather to eat from a bulging smörgåsbord. Typical food includes variations of salmon, egg, herring and lamb. Dark Easter beer is consumed and snaps is knocked back.

In English, this day used to also be called Long Friday, but at some point in history it changed to Good Friday. Good in this context means Holy. According to the Daily Mash this is ‘still stupid. You don’t get much worse days than being flogged, nailed to a cross, then stabbed. And that includes your annual performance review. It’s like calling funerals ‘Happy Burying Nana Day’.