Sweden’s Easter tree – wiping, witching or whipping?

In Sweden, they don’t only have Christmas trees, they also have Easter trees.

This Easter tree, known as ‘påskris’, is a handful of twigs and sticks (usually birch) installed in a vase with coloured feathers attached to the ends. People often hang painted eggs and other decorations such as chickens in their installation. The Easter tree can be seen all over the country at this time of year: outside shop entrances, in peoples’ living rooms, in gardens, in the middle of roundabouts.

The Easter tree is an interesting cultural phenomena – but where does it originate?

Wiping: Well, some Swedes say that it symbolises the wiping away of the winter. The twigs represent a broom and the feathers get caught in the broom as we sweep.

Witching: Others say that it represents witchcraft. The twigs represent a witch’s broomstick and the feathers indicate flight. This could also be why Swedish kids dress up as witches at Easter and do a kind of ‘trick or treating’ for Easter eggs.

Whipping: But, apparently the Easter tree has a completely different origin and symbolism. Swedish people, in the 1600’s, used to take twigs and sticks and beat each other with them on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of Jesus. In the 1800’s and 1900’s, they started to be decorated and became a symbolic decoration for Easter.

So, wiping, witching or whipping. Who would have thought the colourful Easter tree would have such a colourful history?

How Aslan led to Sweden – a personal story of a Swedish odysse

A long-time friend of mine recently wrote a post on Facebook, instigated by the recent school shooting in her home country, USA. In her post, she writes her personal story about her 30 year experience of living in Sweden. With her permission, I am publishing it here. Please read it, I think it sums up the way a lot of people who move to Sweden feel. Here it is:

‘For anyone who might be interested, I would like to share a milestone in my life.

30 years ago this week, I took the adventure that Aslan gave me. (If you’ve read ‘The Narnia Chronicles’, you understand that reference.) I packed up my clothes and few belongings, waved a tearful goodbye to my parents at Dulles International Airport in Washington and moved to Sweden. I knew that the love of my life lived there, and that was most important, but I didn’t know much else. I had NO IDEA how the trajectory of my life would change.

Among the things I have experienced in Sweden are the following:

* An AMAZING Swedish family which took me in, accepted me with all of my weird American quirks and loved/loves me like my own family. They ARE my own family now. Along the way, my Mother-in-law and older sister-in-law were instrumental in helping me learn Swedish. Their patience was infinite. My younger sister-in-law, Marina, has become one of my closest friends, but, she talked so fast, I couldn’t understand a word she said. Sometimes, I still don’t. 😂❤️

* A society, while not being perfect, holds 2 particular values to be self-evident:

1. We have a responsibility to those who are less fortunate and that responsibility should be incorporated into government policy.

2. Women and men are equal.

* A year of paid maternity leave with each child.

* Unparalleled care through 5! major surgeries, NONE of which I had to pay for.

* A school system which treats me like a professional and gives me a great deal of freedom as to what and how I teach my students in order to reach curriculum goals.

* AMAZING colleagues from a plethora of nations, cultures and languages who are passionate about our students and who are a daily reminder to me of the common humanity of every person on the planet.

* I NEVER have to worry about a gunman in my school. 😔

Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” So far, I’ve gotten a box of ALL of my favorite kinds. Who knew on that cold Sunday in February of 1988 when my parents hugged me goodbye.

Thanks for reading’. ❤️

New Swedish words

Every year, the Swedish Language Institute announces which new words have made it into the Swedish dictionary.

Some of the words are totally new, some have been given a new meaning but all reflect the cultural and political influences of the year.

Here are 10 of the new words from 2017:

1) ‘alternativa fakta‘ – alternative facts. Coined by Trump minion Kellyanne Conway

2) ‘dabba‘ – to dab, a type of dance move

3) ‘döstäda‘ – to death clean. To clean out one’s possessions before death so that surviving family members don’t have to

4) ‘fejkade nyheter’ – fake news

5) ‘knäprotest‘ – to kneel in protest

6) #metoo

7) ‘plogga‘ – to jog and pick up rubbish at the same time

8) ‘serieotrohet‘ – series cheating – to watch an episode of a series without your partner (when you are supposed to be watching it together)

9) ‘skogsbad‘ – a form of therapy where one emerses oneself in the forest to reduce stress. Called ‘shinrin-yoku’ in Japanese.

10) ‘veganisera‘ – to make a vegan version of food that normally contains animal products.

To see the whole list, go to http://www.sprakochfolkminnen.se

When Swedish men trivialise the problem

Metoo

Sweden is the country that brands itself on gender equality. So good is the Swedish PR  machine that people outside of Sweden believe it and even the Swedes have bought into themselves. It’s hardly astounding then that when the global #MeToo movement accelerated in Sweden, it exploded in society like a molotov cocktail. In all walks of life, in all professions, Swedish women are coming out with testimonies of physical abuse, mental terror, sexual misconduct, rape, harassment, assault, abuse of power – at the hands of men. And it is sending shock waves through the whole of the country.

Today, a piece of research carried out on behalf of Sweden’s largest news channel was released. Over a thousand people were asked questions in relation to the #MeToo phenomena. In answer to the question, ‘I feel that it is over-exaggerated’, 45% of the men answered ‘yes’. In other words, almost half of Swedish men (in this survey) think that the #MeToo movement is exaggerated!

What is this about? Why are there so many men who think that just because they haven’t experienced the problem, the problem doesn’t exist. Is it self preservation? Arrogance?  Have they bought in to the Swedish illusion of gender equality? Whatever it is, it would seem that these men lack the ability to empathise with any other perspective on life than their own. They cannot see the situation from another perspective – or relate to the female experience and point of view.

I think it’s a case of minimisation. In psychology, and in cultural awareness training, this is a term that we use to describe people’s behaviour when full denial isn’t an option. In the case of #MeToo, I would guess these men do not deny it. But they do question its legitimacy and frequency. Classic minimisation.

Minimisation can be defined as the downplaying of the significance of an event or emotion. It is a common strategy in dealing with feelings of guilt. Minimisation manifests itself in all sorts of ways, such as saying that a hurtful comment was only a joke or reducing somebody’s feelings by saying ‘it’s no big deal’ or ‘what’s the problem?’.

In this case, minimisation is happening on a society level. It is suggesting that there are just a few bad apples or rogues in an organization when in reality problems are widespread and systemic throughout society. Minimisation in this form is a conscious or subconscious tactic used to manipulate others, and ourselves. Perhaps for the subconscious guilt we men feel for being a part of the system.

Trivialising the experiences of the women is distasteful. I get it that it is scary when people are angry and when information that has been hidden for a long time starts to surface. But playing it down will only undermine the validity of the movement. And this movement needs to last.

A societal change is essential. And we men have an important role in it. We should stop suggesting that the #MeToo movement is over-exaggerated, or that women are using it as revenge, or it is a witch hunt against men. Instead, we should listen to the testimonies. We should be shocked by them. We should not accept it. And we should work to change attitudes towards women in Sweden.

Swedish men – get it together!

If equality is something you are proud of in Sweden – then start by believing what you hear. And be an example to men all over the world – ‘In Sweden, we don’t stand for this. In Sweden, we listen. In Sweden we will change.’

Sweden’s badass king

Today, 30th November is an important day in Swedish history.

And it all revolves around a stoical King, whose statue can be seen in Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården Park.

Today, Sweden is a peaceful country and hasn’t been at war for over 200 years. But it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, Sweden was a great power, a military giant with a much larger territory than it has today. And the King of the statue – Charles XII – had a lot to do with it. If you see the statue, he is pointing his finger east. And there is a good explanation for this.

Charles (Karl) was king in Sweden 1697-1718 and a bit of a badass. Apparently never registering physical pain, in the space of a few years, he transformed the small nation of Sweden into a formidable power, crushing his enemies under him. And then he lost it all. At this time, Sweden covered modern day Norway, Finland and other Baltic regions such as Lavonia.

Charles ascended to the throne age 15 and his youth was subsequently exploited by neighbours Denmark, Poland and Lithuania who decided to snatch land from him. In retaliation, he quashed Denmark’s invasion of Sweden and put an ally on the throne. Then, he responded to Russia’s attempt to occupy Livonia and Estonia, and won a sweeping victory at the battle of Narva, under the cover of a blizzard.

After later defeating Poland and Lithuania, he then turned his sights again on Russia. Like his statue, he pointed East. This was a mistake. Up until now, it seems like he just retaliated but this time he waged a war. Hubris perhaps? It was to be his downfall.

Unfortunately for Charles, Peter the Great had regrouped and, in a grueling cold battle, the Russians beat the shit out of the Swedes. Rather like what happens on the ice hockey rink today. Charles fled to the Ottoman Empire but made himself unpopular there so fled back to Sweden, riding across Europe on horseback in just 14 days. Obviously not on the same horse.

Back in Sweden, he saw his nation crumble. Russia took Finland. Denmark took other Baltic regions.

On Nov 30th, 1718 he was shot and killed in modern day Norway, thus marking the short period of Sweden as a great European power. The ‘Swedish empire’ crumbled and territory was taken.

In modern day democratic, peaceful Sweden, Charles XII is sometimes criticized as a blood thirsty tyrant. His war-mongering contradicts strongly with the Swedish Brand of today. But history is history. Rewritten, retold and reinterpreted.

Whatever Charles was, there is no doubt he was a hard core ass kicker. On a historical website I found, the writer describes Charles XII in the following way:

‘Charles was pretty badass.  He completely abstained from alcohol and sex and was pretty much uncomfortable doing anything other than leading his troops to victory or being stoic as fuck.  He lived fast, died young and when he went down he took the entire fucking country of Sweden with him.  What more can you ask for from a historical badass?’

5 things that are wrong with Sweden

When you’ve lived in a foreign country as long as I have, you become blind to the differences that were so obvious when you first moved here. That’s a natural development I guess. Call it emersion, or integration, or adaptation, or assimilation. Or in my case, Swedification.

However, there are still some differences in Sweden that I notice on a regular basis. Things so deeply ingrained in me from my cultural background that they still feel wrong in Sweden. Here are my top 5:

1) Front doors open the wrong way. Doors open outwards, instead of inwards. That means if you are visiting someone, ring their doorbell and stand on the landing, there is a big risk that you get smacked in the face as they open the door outwards, towards you. It’s just wrong!

2) Plumbing is often on the outside of the walls. Especially in bathrooms, and around radiators, ugly pipes are not hidden behind the plaster in the wall. They run up and down and side to side along the outside of the wall, visible to everybody. So ugly, and just wrong!

3) Driving. Swedes drive on the right side of the road. It’s just wrong.

4) The ‘tunnelbana’. On the underground (tunnelbana) in Stockholm, most people don’t wait for passengers to get off the train before trying to get on. As soon as the doors open, people pile in. At the same time people are trying to get out. The resulting caffuffle in the door opening is so unnecessary and just wrong!

5) Celebrating the Eves, instead of the Days. I’ll never get used to it. Especially at Christmas. Santa coming in the afternoon on Christmas Eve instead of the night between the Eve and the Day, is just wrong!

I know what you’re thinking. How unimportant all of this is.

And you’re not wrong.

I’m happy to live in a place where the only things that seem off to me are so minor. When it comes to values, structures, systems, behaviours, lifestyle and attitudes so much about Sweden is, for me, just right.

Non-binary Swedish and English

For a while now the non-binary pronoun ‘hen’ has been used in the Swedish language. ‘Hen’ is used to refer to somebody who does not relate or feel represented by the established pronouns for he (han) and she (hon). Initially met with ridicule by some people in Sweden, the ‘hen’ pronoun is slowly starting to gain in usage amongst Swedes and in ordinary vernacular.

I have long assumed that non-binary pronouns do not exist in English apart from the neutralizing use of ‘they’. Imagine my surprise when I read an article today in the Huffington Post which proved me wrong. The article talked about the queering of language. The guide to English non-binary pronouns are presented in the table.

It’ll certainly take some getting used to to add new pronouns into the vocabulary. However, language is one of our greatest tools for celebrating diversity and increasing inclusiveness.

For that alone, I think it’s worth the effort.