Spectacular Swedish serenity on All Saints’ Day

I remember walking around Stockholm when I had recently moved here. It was a pitch black Saturday evening in November, cold and crisp. As I approached a majestic church, I noticed that it was shimmering from the grave yard. This yellow and white light slowly flickered and cast shadows on the gravestones and the church wall. As if drawn by a magic spell, I walked up to the church and looked over the wall. The sight that met my eyes was spectacular and serene at the same time. Hundreds of candles were spread around the cemetery, decorating each of the graves. In the memory grove a bright blazing blanket of candles lit up the area. It was as if the spirits of the dead had come out to play.

In Sweden, the first Saturday in November is All Saints’ Day (the Sunday after All Saints’ Day is called All Souls’ Day to separate between the saints and the dead).

Since the 1800’s Swedes have, during this weekend, made pilgrimage to graveyards up and down the country to decorate the graves with candle light and to pay respect to the dead. It is a much more elegant and atmospheric tradition than the typical Halloween parties that otherwise have become very popular in Sweden.

It is a truly beautiful experience to walk through the churchyards this weekend. In the pitch black November Nordic darkness, it is a peaceful reminder of those who have gone before us. So head for your nearest cemetery this weekend and, if you happen to be in Stockholm, go to the Forest graveyard (Skogskyrkogården) for a specifically spectacular experience (pictured below).

Swedish ways to die #5 Death by tick

Today, I conclude my sojourn into culturally Swedish ways to die. I have written about death by lift, death by cyclist, death by fishing and death by ice. Today, we come to death by tick – a particularly creepy way to bite the big one.

Although Sweden has a reputation for being a safe country, it is actually infested with life-threatening creatures. These small spidery insects survive for years and live in their millions in the long grass around the country. The blood-sucking tick exists around the world and carries many pathogens – in Sweden it’s a disease known as Lyme disease.

If you are unfortunate to be targeted by a tick that is infected, you can become very sick and have life-long health issues or ultimately, die. They might be small, but they are lethal little critters.

The gross thing about the tick is that they live and feed on the blood of mammals. Once you have one on your skin, they crawl around to find an appropriate moist area. Then they dig in and start sucking, and as they suck their bodies fill up with blood. In the end, they look like grey grapes on the surface of the skin. So gross!

They say that even paradise had a snake. Sweden’s snake in the grass is the blood-sucking, parasitical tick. It sucks to be bitten by one and is a particularly Swedish way to die.

Swedish ways to die #3 Death by cyclist

In this short series, I explore how death can also be cultural. Here is number 3.

The summer season is well and truly here. It brings with it wonderful things such as picnics, batheable water, barbecues, sun tans and crispy pink wine.

However, there is a downside. The summer also presents some horrors such as disease-spreading ticks, pollen explosions, forest fires and demons on two wheels. Yes, cyclists. Of all the plagues to tarnish the summer, the cyclists are probably the worst. They can be the harbingers of death.

In Stockholm, cyclists often move in swarms. Like a disturbed hive, they flourish over the horizon and zoom down the streets, mercilessly crushing everything in their path. God help the poor pedestrian who gets in the way. In the best case, you receive abuse, in the worst case a collision occurs which causes the pedestrian to literally and metaphorically, bite the dust.

Most accidents and deaths happen on crossings. Arrogant, egocentric Swedish cyclists don’t seem to think that traffic rules apply to them. So a red stop light only applies to cars. For the cyclist it means ‘no, not you, please keep cycling, and preferably really fast’.

The morbid scenario is easy to envisage. The pedestrian stands patiently and waits to cross the street. Finally, he or she receives the signal from the green man. He or she steps confidently onto the crossing and BAAM! Death by cyclist! A rather Swedish way to die.

Death of a Swedish superstar

World-famous Swedish house DJ Avicii is dead, at 28 years old. I liked his music but other than that, I personally didn’t have much more of a connection to him, But of course his untimely death has been taken hard by his enormous amount of fans in Sweden, and in the rest of the world.

In Utrecht, the church bells in the Dom Tower, rang out the songs of Avicii over the town. On social media, condolences from celebrities and music stars flooded in. In a spontaneously-planned memorial ceremony yesterday, a huge mass of people gathered on a square in central Stockholm. After a minute’s silence, they danced together to Avicii’s greatest hits. Swedish tv is full of Avicii tributes and he topped iTunes and Spotify yet again.

One can’t deny the impact that this talented man had on electronic music and the inspiration he left behind for many new upcoming musicians. This young Swedish man, born in Stockholm, really did conquer the world.

A new album of tracks is set for release, and is said to be his best music ever.

This will be his epitaph and his legacy.

Sweden’s giant blue penis

In recent days, a giant blue penis has been the cause of much discussion in Sweden. On the wall of a 5 story building, artist Carolina Falkholt has depicted an enormous blue male member – on a yellow background – Swedish national colours. The artist painted a similar pink penis on a wall in New York but it was painted over after just a couple of days because of public outcry. In a recent interview she says ‘I usually paint pussies, so I thought it was time for a dick..I think it will be allowed to remain here, that people let it take its place in the debate around the body, sexuality and freedom.’

If the purpose of art is to provoke and cause a reaction, she has certainly succeeded. The nature of the painting makes us reflect over why we might be shocked or offended by it – and that is a useful reflection to have.

The mural has been there a few days now. Let’s see how long it lasts!

Swedish malice on the underground

Travelling on the underground, I overhead a Swedish conversation between two people – one of them a spiteful 30-something woman. I say spiteful because she spent the entire journey demeaning and mocking their colleagues. It’s not often I hear such blatant malice so I became curious and listened carefully. Apparently, everyone in the office was a loser, annoying, boring and/or stupid. Nice person, I thought. However, one thing in particular triggered my curiosity.

As she spewed bile, she referred scornfully to one of their colleagues as ‘ you know Annika, she’s short, dumpy and wears office dresses’

What the hell is an ‘office dress’?!

I don’t care too much for that woman on the underground. But I do care about knowing what an ‘office dress’ is and why it’s degrading!

Can anybody can enlighten me, please do!

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?’