Something surprising about Swedish Midsummer

These days, Midsummer Day is a flexible holiday practically celebrated on a Saturday sometime between 20 and 26 June. This means that Midsummer Eve, one of the biggest festivities in the Swedish calendar, is always on a Friday. In the case of 2021, that’s tomorrow.

Bit did you know that this has only been since 1953? Prior to 1952, Midsummer Day was always celebrated today – the 24th June – coinciding with John the Baptist’s birthday. This was regardless of the day of the week it landed on. So today’s strong association with Midsummer being a long weekend is actually only around 70 years old

John the Baptist was a person who foresaw the birth of Jesus. He is considered a prophet in several of the world’s religions. He was a prolific preacher whose severed head was notoriously presented on a silver platter to Salome. His birthday has been celebrated since 300 AD on June 24 in many countries around the world.

An interesting fact is that Midsummer Day is still associated with John the Baptist in the other Scandinavian countries. For example, in Finland it is not called Midsummer but Juhannus. In Iceland, it is Jònsmessa. And in Denmark and Norway – Sankt Hans.

How to be a parent in Sweden

Back in the days when we could fly, we all used to find ourselves sharing airport space with lots of other people. This led to me developing a specific skill. Wherever I was in the world, I could always identify the Swedish families. It wasn’t to do with language or looks or fashion style. No, it was to do with parenting.

If there was a child, or children, sprinting around the airport without the supervision of an adult – they were without a doubt Swedish. If kids were screaming at top volume without parental intervention – Swedish. If restaurant queues were building up because a kid couldn’t decide what to eat – invariably Swedish. In an airport, the Swedish parenting style was on show for everybody to see.

Swedish parenting is child-centric and comparatively free. It can be perceived as permissive and hands-off. Most parents adopt a communicative style with their children, which can seem to the untrained eye that this means there are no boundaries and no consequences. Children are from an early age involved in decisions that affect them, which is in contrast to a more authoritative and punitive style of parenting found in other countries. This leads to a population where self expression and independence is important

Here are 5 typical parenting behaviours in Sweden:

1) Egalitarian parenting. In Sweden, parents get 480 days of paid parental leave to share and, in heterosexual relationships, 90 of those are non-transferable days for fathers only. This is intended to achieve a more equal division of child-rearing responsibilities. This often extends into the division of duties in the home. So both men an women cook, clean, change nappies and stay home with sick children. For Swedes, it’s a no brainier.

2) Cosiness and cuddling. Friday evenings are reserved for family time. Called ‘fredagsmys’, or Friday coziness, it is when families curl up under a blanket, light candles and watch a film or series together—all while eating tacos, pizza, crisps and sweets. It is not unusual for kids to sleep in their parents’ bed until they reach double digits.

3) Right to Day Care. Every child in Sweden has a right to attend day care from one year old. Day care is subsidised and cheap. At Day Care, the kids spend most of their time playing—academia usually begins in earnest around 6 years old. The other reason for organised child care is so that parents can quickly return to the tax-paying workforce – and collectively finance child care and rest of the welfare state.

4) No spanking. Hitting a child is unthinkable – and illegal – in Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban spanking and all corporal punishment in 1979. As mentioned before, Swedes apply communicative style of parenting and discipline their children by talking and reasoning with them.

5) Go outside. Outdoorsiness starts early with parents leaving their children outside to sleep in their prams in sub zero temperatures. The crisp air is thought to be good for them. In schools, kids go outside and play every day—regardless of the weather. Some day care solutions are set outdoors with kids spending all day every day in the woods. In the summer, it’s not unusual to see naked kids on the beaches, reflecting Sweden’s relaxed attitude to nudity. Sports and being outdoors are highly prioritised in Sweden. Fresh air, and getting dirty, are considered healthy.

So back to those Swedish kids in the airport. Sure, they justifiably could be seen as unruly, disrespectful and unsupervised. But in equal measure, their behaviour can be a result of a flexible, free parental style that encourages independence and self sufficiency from an early age.

The Swedish Death Penalty

The name Bridget Bishop might not mean anything to you – unless you are seriously into history. On this day, June 10th, in 1692 Bridget Bishop was the first woman to be hanged during the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts. In total 19 women were accused of witchcraft and hanged and many others were persecuted. Capital punishment still exists in the USA, with lethal injection and electrocution as the favoured methods. In 2020, 17 executions were carried out in the USA.

In Sweden, capital punishment was legal until 1973, although an execution was last enacted in 1910 on murderer Johan Alfred Ander. The last death penalty was actually given in 1927 but the sentence was changed to hard labour. In 1917, Hilda Nilsson, a child murderer, was sentenced to death. She escaped execution, however, by committing suicide. That meant that the last woman to be executed in Sweden was murderer Anna Månsdotter in 1890.

At the time of its abolition in 1973, beheading was the legal method of execution. Today capital punishment, corporal punishment and torture are all outlawed in Sweden.

Interestingly, 110 countries have completely abolished capital punishment like Sweden. However, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where the death penalty still exists, such as USA, China, India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan.

Swedish National Day – a new king, an old king and a new constitution

On 6 June 1523, Gustav Vasa was crowned king. He was one of the few survivors of the Stockholm Bloodbath, in which his father and 80 other nobles were murdered, Game of Thrones style. He ruled the country until 1560. During his reign, he released Sweden from the Kalmar Union consisting of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. He also turned Sweden from a catholic country into a Protestant one, with the monarch and not the pope as head of the church.

The 6 June is another significant day in Swedish history – on 6 June 1809 the country signed a new constitution. This lay the foundation for Sweden’s current status as an independent democracy. and was in place until 1974. The constitution returned political power to the parliament after King Gustav IV Adolph was deposed in a military coup in 1809. He was the last Swedish monarch to rule over Finland. After him, the crown passed not to his children but to his uncle, Charles VIII. Charles had no legitimate heir, which set into motion the quest for a successor. This was found the following year in the person of Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the first monarch of the present royal family.

For these two reasons, Sweden celebrates its National Day today – June 6th. It was declared in 1983, and was first celebrated as a public holiday in 2005.

Normally, the day is celebrated with various events up and down the country but this year much is cancelled, due to the ongoing pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings.

As a replacement http://www.sweden.se are carrying out a digital event. It can be seen at facebook.com/swedense from 10.00 CET. Check it out!

Swedish hits 10+++++

Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of pop music and has a huge industry of songwriters and musicians. In previous posts, we’ve looked at singers and artists who are Swedish. And there are many more who weren’t mentioned, such as Robyn, Zara Larsson, Neneh Cherry, Leila K, Army of Lovers, The Hives, Alcazar, Tove Lo, Mabel, to highlight a few notables.

However, in today’s tenth and final installment we shine the light on all those songs that have Swedish hit makers behind them, even if the singer wasn’t Swedish.

Sweden’s most famous hit-maker is probably Max Martin. This song-writer and producer has created hits for artists such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Backstreet Boys, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and the Justins Timberlake and Bieber, to mention a few. Hits such as Hit me Baby One More Time, I Kissed a Girl, I Can’t Feel My Face are his. Consequently, his net worth is estimated at 2.1 billion crowns and he has won songwriter of the year 11 times. He has written 23 Billboard number 1’s, surpassed only by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. In September 2010, he had four songs in the top 5 at the same time. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Polar Prize, Sweden’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize for music. The prize recognised his achievements as a prolific song writer and producer.

Another Swedish hit-maker is Redone. With roots in Morocco, he is the writer and producer behind Lady Gaga, with hits such as Just Dance, Poker Face and Bad Romance under his belt. Other than Gaga, he has produced Jennifer Lopez, Usher, Enrique Iglesias, One Direction and Nicki Minaj to mention a few.

A third Swedish hit-maker is Shellback. He works closely with Max Martin and has written songs like Pink’s So What, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger. With Martin, he also wrote the mega hit Can’t Stop The Feeling for Justin Timberlake. After Max Martin, Shellback has the record for the most number 1 hits on the Billboard charts written by a Swede. He is still active although suffered a burn out a few years ago.

Thomas G:son is another Swedish song-writer who moves in very different circles than the three mentioned above. He is the king of Eurovision and is the Swede who has had the most songs represented in the domestic and international Eurovision Song Contests – 56 in total. His songs have been sung by iconic Swedish singers such as Carola, Kikki Danielsson and Charlotte Perelli. His only winning song in the finals is, however, Euphoria sung by Loreen.

Swedish ‘Pingst’

This weekend is ‘Pingst’ in Swedish – known as Pentacost or Whitsun in English. Today is Pingst Eve, and tomorrow Pingst Day. Monday used to be a public holiday in Sweden, as it still is in many other countries. However, in 2004, the Swedish Government removed it, and replaced it with the secular National Day on June 6.

So although it is still an official ‘holiday’ in the calendar, it is no longer a day off. Consequently it has been forgotten by many and is just an ordinary weekend for most people, other than those with religious convictions.

The name Pingst, as the name Pentecost, comes from the Greek word for 50, and refers to the feast of 50 days in Jewish tradition. This is also known as Shavuot and celebrates God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. In the Christian faith, Pentecost commemorates the descent and appearance of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Jesus as they celebrated this tradition. By many historians, this moment is considered to be the birth of the Christian religion.

In Sweden, this is popular weekend to christen babies and to get married, sometimes both at the same time.

Swedish museums

Today, 18 May, is Museum Day. While most are still closed down due to the pandemic, some are open with restricted hours and pre-booking. In total there are around 170 museums in Sweden, many with free entrance. Stockholm has over 100 museums, making it one of the most museum-dense cities in the world. According to statistics from Sweden’s Museums, here were the top 5 most-visited in Sweden in 2019.

1. Vasa Museum – the restoration project of a large galleon that sunk in Stockholm’s harbour in 1628. Amazing place, and my personal favourite.

2. Skansen – Stockholm’s open air museum depicting Sweden’s historical architecture and culture. Has also a zoo and a large stage for outdoor concerts.

3. National Museum – Sweden’s art and design museum, situated opposite the Royal Palace.

4. Nordic Museum – museum about how people in the nordics have lived, eaten, dressed throughout the centuries

5. Natural History Museum – biology and geology museum with a popular 760 meter dome shaped cinema screen.

All of the above are in Stockholm. Outside the capital, the most visited museums were Frilufts Museum in Linköping, Malmö Museum in Malmö, Wadköping in Örebro, Dunkers in Helsingborg and Gotland Museum on the island of Gotland.

There seems to be a museum for most things in Sweden. Some unusual examples are the Matchstick Museum, the Abba Museum, the Spirit Museum, the Lenin Spa Museum, the Newsagent Museum, the Thermos Flask Museum, the Amber Museum, the Leather Museum, the Cannibal Museum and the Video Game Museum.

Whatever your preference there is a museum to suit everybody in Sweden. Once the doors are open again, I strongly recommend a visit to at least one of them!

Christ Flying Day – a Swedish holiday

Today is Ascension Day, and it is a public holiday in Sweden. The Swedish word for today is Kristi himmelsfärdsdagen or Kristiflygare, which translates loosely as Christ Flying Day. Yet another example of the literalness of the Swedish language, this day signifies the bible story of Jesus Christ ascending (or flying) to heaven.

Unlike some countries that moved the celebration to the following Sunday, Sweden celebrates Ascension Day on the actual Thursday. This gives rise to another Swedish concept – the ‘squeeze day’. Since Thursday is a holiday, and Saturday is a work-free day for most, Friday gets squeezed between them and is also taken as a day off by most people. That makes this weekend a lovely long weekend, often signifying the beginning of summer. In previous times, today was also called ‘barärmdagen’ – or ‘bare arm day’ – as women started to wear clothes that exposed their arms.

This weekend is not religiously observed by most Swedes. Being a secular country, time is usually spent outdoors if the weather permits. Some Swedes go to their summer houses, or sail the waterways on their boats. Others meet friends, sit in outdoor cafes, or carry out sporting activities. In years when travel is permitted, this is also a popular weekend to fly off for a four-day break in, for example, Barcelona, Nice or Palma.

Stupid Swedes

Sitting with some friends yesterday, we discussed why the Swedish word ’korkad’ (corked) means stupid. After much research, we couldn’t find an answer but we guessed it had something to do with the fact that cork is empty, light and flighty. Another thought was once you have uncorked a bottle and drunk it, it is an empty vessel.

We might not have found the origin of the word ‘korkad’ but we did find lots of expressions in Swedish to call somebody stupid. Here are 15 of them!

1) Bakom flötet – behind the float (fishing)

2) Tjockskallig – thick skulled

3) Tappad bakom en vagn – dropped behind a carriage

4) Tappad i backen – dropped on the ground

5) Ut och cyklar – out cycling

6) Dum i huvudet – stupid in the head

7) Fårskalle – sheep skull

8) Obegåvad – ungifted

9) Har inte alla hästar i stallet/hemma – doesn’t have all his/her horses in the stable / at home

10) Inte den vassaste kniven i lådan – not the sharpest knife in the drawer

11) Hjulet snurrar men hamstern är död – the wheel is turning but the hamster is dead

12) Född i farstun – born in the porch

13) Har inte alla kottar i granen – doesn’t have all the cones on his/her fir tree

14) Jubelidiot – celebrated idiot

15) Hissen går inte hela vägen upp – the lift doesn’t go all the way to the top floor

Then there are lots of words like ‘korkad’ that are fun to say and all mean stupid. For example, ’trög, bombad, knasig, knäpp, puckad, pantad, pundig, beng, bläng, boll, ding, fläng, prillig, stollig, svagsint, rubbad, koko, blåst’.

Who knew there were so many ways to call somebody stupid in Swedish? I tend to just say ‘dum’ but I’m now going to practice a few more of these words and expressions.

Swedish cartoons – a bear, an elk, a cool dog and a hotdog

Today, May 5th, is International Cartoonists’ Day, designed to celebrate this specific craft and art form. For all of us, cartoons are part of the tapestry of our lives, and it’s hard to imagine a media landscape without them. This isn’t surprising given that the art form as we know it today – in newspaper, magazine and film – goes back around 170 years.

Although hand-drawn stories originated in the Middle Ages, the satirical and humouristic form we know today started in 1843 in the British Punch magazine. The longest-running newspaper cartoon strip is called The Katzenjammer Kids, known as Knoll and Tott in Swedish. This strip has been published in the American Humorist since 1897. The earliest animated cartoon for film is considered to be Fastasmagorie by French cartoonist Émile Cohl, drawn in 1908. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the first Disney film – Steamboat Willy – appeared, featuring the very familiar Mickey Mouse

So what about Sweden? What is Sweden’s history of cartoons? Cartoon strips in Sweden started in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. The oldest cartoon strip that is still being published today is 91:a, which started in 1932. In Sweden, international cartoons have been very popular. Although originating abroad, their names are usually Swedified. For example, Donald Duck is Kalle Anka, Popeye is Karl-Alfred and Fred Basset is Laban. The Finnish cartoon Mumin is also very popular. There are, however, some strips that have been drawn by talented Swedish cartoonists. Here are a few:

1) Bamse. The most successful cartoon from Sweden. Bamse is the world’s strongest bear, who eats honey and is best friends with a rabbit (Lilla Skutt) and a tortoise (Skalman). Drawn by Rune Andreasson, Bamse has his own comic strip, magazine and films. When Swedes give each other a strong hug, they call it a ‘Bamse hug’.

2) Hälge. A melancholy elk drawn by Lars Mortimer. Hälge is constantly on the run from Hunter Edwin and his dog Blixten, who he manages to outwit season after season.

3) Rocky. Cartoonist Martin Kellerman created this autobiographical character aimed at the adult reader. Rocky is a cool dog, the same age as Kellermann and is also a cartoonist. The character is philosophical, satirical and critical and has even been converted into theatre.

4. Assar. A satirical comic strip that appeared in Swedish newspaper DN, drawn by Ulf Lundqvist. Assar is a talking hot dog who has escaped the hot dog stand and lives in a depressed village populated with small-minded residents. Many of the later stories focused more on these residents than on Assar himself.

All of the examples are successful strips drawn by men. There are several acclaimed female cartoonists in Sweden also. Lena Ackebo and Nina Hemingsson are probably the most well known. Both are satirical cartoonists, with distinctive style. They draw a variety of players, and do not restrict themselves to portraying the antics of one particular named character.

Lena Ackebo cartoon
Nina Hemingsson cartoon

What other Swedish cartoonists deserve a mention? Please let me know below!