Advent Calendar – Dec 13: Lucia

Window 13: Today’s word is ‘Lucia‘ – a light-bringing saint who is commemorated today.

At the darkest time of the year, Santa Lucia (St Lucy) pays us a visit early in the morning. Lucia has candles in her hair and is surrounded by her handmaidens and boys, and shines light into the dark depths of our spirits. And slowly, slowly, the day awakens.

Santa Lucia is believed to have been a Sicilian saint who suffered a martyr’s death in Syracuse, Sicily around AD 310. She was seeking help for her mother’s long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucia became a devout Christian and refused to compromise her virginity in marriage.

Officials threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking.

One of the soldiers stuck a spear through her throat to stop her, but to no effect. Soon afterwards, the Roman consulate in charge was hauled off to Rome on charges of theft from the state and beheaded. Lucia was able to die only when she was given the Christian sacrement.

The tradition of Santa Lucia is said to have been brought to Sweden via Italian merchants and the idea of lighting up the dark appealed so much that the tradition remained. The current tradition of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the area around Lake Vänern in the late 18th century and spread slowly to other parts of the country during the 19th century.

The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucia for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucia every year. Schools elect a Lucia and her maids among the students. The regional Lucias will visit shopping malls, old people’s homes and churches, singing and handing out gingerbread.

So, it might be cold and dark outside, but remember – after darkness comes the light.

Advent Calendar – Dec 7: Julskinka

Window 7: Today’s word is ‘Julskinka‘ which translates as ‘Christmas ham’ and is pronounced yule-hwinka (ish).

In the UK, I grew up eating roast turkey at Christmas. But in Sweden, it’s the ham that counts!

Swedes have been eating Christmas ham during the festive season since the 1600’s and many people consider it an obligatory part of the Christmas meal.

Originally it was a dish eaten only by the upper classes and rich farmers, but somewhere in the 1800’s in made it onto the tables of the general public.

The tradition of eating ham is thought to have evolved from the German pagan ritual of sacrificing a wild boar known as a sonargöltr to Frey, the Norse god of fertility, during the harvest festival. This was later adapted by the Christians and aligned with St Stephen’s Day which falls on December 26th.

Traditionally the cured ham is oven baked or boiled before it is coated in mustard and breadcrumbs and grill roasted. Here is a recipe.

The ham is mostly eaten with mustard and apple sauce. And the cold leftovers are eaten for days afterwards, often on crisp bread.

The Christmas ham is traditional in many other Northern European countries such as Finland, Estonia and Poland and even some parts of the USA and Australia.

Many people these days don’t eat meat, and therefore reject ham. However, to mimic the Christmas tradition, there are plenty of veggie centerpieces available including roasts made of soya, Quorn and other plant-based ingredients.

Advent Calendar Dec 4: Julkalendern

Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Julkalendern‘ which translates as ‘Christmas Calendar’

Julkalendern is a television series broadcast on Swedish TV every day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. It is a popular and heavily-anticipated program that children and adults traditionally watch at 7.15 in the morning (or on line). Typically each episode is 15 minutes long, and every year there is a new story.

The first Julkalendern was broadcast in 1960 and was called ‘Titteliture’. In 2016, a competition was held to vote for the all-time favourite Julkalendern. It was won by a series called ‘Sune’s Christmas’ (1991) followed by ‘The Mystery at Greveholm’ (1996), ‘Time of the Trolls’ (1979) and ‘The old woman who shrunk to the size of a teaspoon’ (1967).

This year, the series is called ‘An honorable Christmas with the Knyckertz family’ which follows the adventures of a family of robbers and their young son Ture – who can’t even tell a lie.

Sweden’s most beautiful dialect

On the FB site New Swedes, the author writes about Swedish dialects and accents:

‘Dialekter skiljer sig väldigt mycket åt, och nästan varje stad har flera ord som är snudd på omöjligt att uppfatta om man inte kommer just därifrån.
Vilken är Sveriges vackraste dialekt tycker du 😅?

Roughly translated this means:

Dialects differ very much and almost every town has words that are virtually impossible to understand if you don’t come from there. Which is Sweden’s most beautiful dialect do you think?

Around 100 people have answered, and the most popular dialects seem to be Värmländska, from county Värmland, and Gotländska, from the island of Gotland.

I would tend to agree, although I also really like the dialects from Dalarna and Västra Götaland.

What do you think?

My book on Sweden – the Essential Guide!

My book is doing really well, which I’m very proud of. You can buy it on Amazon, Bokus, Akademibokhandeln and Adlibris amongst other online stores. Sweden, by Neil Shipley, published by Kuperard 2021.

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

Villa, Volvo, Vovve – an essential guide to Swedish words

A new book is being released tomorrow. Villa, Volvo, Vovve is the Local newspaper’s word guide to Swedish life. The book looks at Swedish culture through Swedish vocabulary and is interesting and entertaining in equal measure. I learned a lot and laughed out loud quite a few times!

Organised alphabetically, the book takes you on a journey from ‘A’, meaning ‘yes, I agree’ to ‘Ö’ meaning ‘island’. Along the way it stops off at Swenglish, False Friends, grammar, pronunciation and a variety of crosswords and quizzes to test the reader. It is not a text book but is a great book for dipping into and learning more about Swedish culture and tradition via its language.

The book is edited by Catherine Edwards and Emma Löfgren and published by Lys Förlag. If you are interested in discovering more about Swedish words and sayings then I suggest you grab a copy from tomorrow at reputable book shops, physical and on-line.

Swedish expression – ’att le i mjugg’

In English when we conceal a smile, we sometimes use the expression ‘to laugh in my sleeve’. This is the approximate meaning of ‘att le i mjugg’. Most Swedes, however, don’t know what ‘mjugg’ means as it is a rather odd word.

‘Mjugg’ is an old word which was first noted in the 1500’s. Meaning ‘in secret’, or ‘on the sly’, it is thought to either come from German or English. The German word ‘mucken’ means to smile or mumble. An old English expression ‘hugger-mugger’ meant clandestine. In regional Swedish, the word ‘mugg’ exists – meaning ‘in secret’.

So, ‘att le i mjugg’ means ‘to smile in secret’, probably with contempt and at somebody else’s expense.

Book recommendation – how to adapt to Swedish culture

I have just finished reading Mustafa Panshiri’s 2021 book ‘7 Råd Till Mustafa’. If you understand Swedish, I strongly recommend you read it.

Mustafa Panshiri came to Sweden as a child from Afghanistan. In his book, he cleverly weaves his own experience of integration with seven pieces of advice he wishes he would have been given. This makes the book not only interesting to read, but very practical and useful. He has an non ‘Western-centric’ perspective which I found fascinating to read about and reflect over.

Aimed at readers who want to understand Swedish culture, and integrate into society, the book is also relevant to Swedes. Panshiri includes sections with advice to ‘Svenssons’.

Integration is a complex issue and Mustafa Panshiri does not claim to solve all of the problems. However, with this book, and his endless youth outreach work, he will clearly make a difference.

The book can be bought on line and at good book shops.

Sweden’s ‘Britt Summer’

Currently, many places in Sweden are experiencing warmer summer-like temperatures. The sun is shining, the air is warm but the leaves on the trees are golden brown. Known in English as Indian Summer, this brief, warm spell in the autumn is, in Swedish, called a ‘Britt Summer.’ It has nothing to do with Britain as you might assume but something completely different.

To be an official Britt Summer, the warm spell has to roughly coincide with the 7th October. This date is known as Birgitta Day, or Britt Day in the Swedish calendar – hence the name. The day celebrates the canonisation of Swedish Saint Birgitta. Legend has it that Saint Birgitta thought the temperature in Sweden was too cold so she prayed for the citizens of the country. And the Lord answered her prayer by providing everybody with a few extra days of summer!

These warm, sunny days are very welcome – the last throws of summer, before we are plunged into darkness and winter takes us in its grasp.

Interestingly, and oddly, Britt Summer is also known as ‘Fattigmanssommar’ (Poor man’s Summer) and Grävlingsommar (Badger Summer).

If anyone knows the reason why, please share it with us!

Where??! Ten hard-to-pronounce place names in Sweden

Learning Swedish is tough for many because of the tricky pronunciation. Some words are very long, making them real tongue twisters. The same can be said for some place names – not necessarily long, but hard to say. Here are ten difficult-to-pronounce place names in Sweden:

1) Hjo. This small town positioned on the West Bank of Lake Vättern is actually pronounced something like ‘you’.

2) Ystad. This south coast town is a tricky one. It’s the ‘y’ sound that makes this one hard as it’s a vowel sound that we don’t have in English, and many other languages. It’s pronounced ‘ee’ but with the lips rounded.

3) Kristianstad. It might look straightforward to pronounce this town in county Skåne, but it’s not. It is pronounced something like ‘Krischansta’.

4) Jönköping. You have to know something about Swedish pronunciation to say the name of this town in county Småland. ’J’ is pronounced ‘Y’. ‘K’ is often pronounced as ‘Sh’ and ‘ö’ is pronounced like ‘er’ (as in her but without the ‘r’ sound). That makes this place name ‘Yernsherping’.

5) Örnsköldsvik. This is a town in the north of Sweden and is a tongue twister. Swedes often refer to it as ‘Övik’, just to avoid saying the full name. It is pronounced something like ‘ern-sherld-sveek’

6) Växjö. This is a town deep in the forests of county Småland. Pronounced ‘Veck-sher’ (kind of) it’s quite a tricky one.

7) Göteborg. The large west coast city of Gothenburg is a hard one to say in Swedish, which is probably why the name was changed to a more easily-pronounced English name. It is pronounced something like ‘yer-te-borry’.

8) Åmål. Once you grasp the ‘å’ sound, this one becomes easier. ‘Å’ is pronounced like the English ‘or’ but without the ‘r’ sound. So this town on the banks of Lake Vänern is pronounced ‘ormorl’

9) Skellefteå. This town in the northern county of Västerbotten is pronounced ‘Shell-efte-or’ (without the ‘r’ sound on the end).

10) Hamrångefjärden. This small village is outside the town of Gävle (also difficult to say). It is amongst the longest place names in Sweden, together with Skummeslövsstrand, Skinnskatteberg, Guldsmedshyttan, and Hälleviksstrand. (Try saying those!). Hamrångefjärden is pronounced something like ‘Ham-wrong-e-fyare-den’.