Swedish is often a very literal language. Yesterday, 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’.
I’m looking out of my window into the blackness of the Swedish afternoon. It’s not even 4pm yet, and the weak rays of light that illuminated the day have long gone. It’s like somebody literally turned off the light on their way out.
This is November in Sweden – one of the darkest times of the year in Sweden. The night blanket roles in over the country mid afternoon and keeps its grip until mid morning the next day. Far up in the north of Sweden, the sun barely peeks over the horizon.
It can be a challenging time for those of us who live here – this period before the snow and the Christmas decorations light up the streets and windows.
Since language develops to describe our environments, it makes sense that in Swedish there are many words to describe the darkness. Native Swedes can instinctively feel the difference between these words, but those of us who have Swedish as a second language have to resort to a dictionary to understand the nuances.
The word ‘svart’ is ‘black’ in Swedish. And there are several types of black – there’s ‘becksvart’ (pitch black), ‘korpsvart’ and ‘ramsvart’ (raven black) and there’s ‘kolsvart’ (coal black). I’m sure there are more, please let me know if you have any others.
But there are also lots of other words that describe the darkness. I’ve tried my best to translate some of these below.
- Skymning – nightfall
- Dunkel – dim
- Skumrask – half dark
- Sollös – without sun
- Töcknig – misty darkness
- Molndiger – cloudy darkness
- Ljusfattig – poor light
- Dyster – gloomy darkness
- Grådaskig – dingy
With all these words in their vocabulary, some people complain about the darkness. And who can really blame them? It is a tough period to get through. The darkness can go a long way towards explaining the stereotypical Swedish melancholy.
So how to survive it? Maybe it’s about shifting perspective?
In the words of the well-used, and highly consoling Swedish expression:
‘Det är bättre att tända ett ljus än att förbanna mörkret.’
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness!
Facebook is today inundated with photographs of the great outdoors. After a long, dark autumn the sun is shining brightly over Stockholm and the sky is royally blue. Photos of people on skis, frozen lakes, rust-colored facades, glistening trees, ice crystals, chilly dogs, and snow-covered rooves abound. Like hibernating bears, the people of the Swedish capital emerge from their lairs when the sun appears. And at this time of the year, a cold, bright white sun is the perfect remedy to the winter blues. Stockholm is a breath-takingly beautiful city on these crisp, February days. So, it’s just to put on the woolly hat, the scarf, gloves, thick coat and winter boots and head outside for your shot of beauty and vitamin boost.
Here’s a picture from my walk:
As the snow tumbles down over the city, I am reminded of the many different words for snow that Swedes have. 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’.
1) Blötsnö – wet, slushy snow
2) Drivsnö – snow that is blown into troublesome snow drifts
3) Aprilsnö – snow in April, according to suspicion 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) Snömos – sloppy snow that resembles mashed potato
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
Nothing sums up Stockholm in the winter months than the word ice. As temperatures plummet, sheets of ice start covering the waterways, icicles form on the guttering and pavements turn into treacherous rinks. There are few places in the world that are as beautiful as Stockholm in the winter and the city is well worth a visit December to March. Imagine this – a crisp blue winter sky and a hazy cool sun hanging low. The trees twinkling with the fresh white of snow and the city’s orange and red buildings glistening with ice and smoky plumes of steam. It’s really a sight to behold. It’s so achingly beautiful you almost forget it’s minus 20 degrees and your nose turned to an ice cube long ago.
Stockholmers really know how to make the most of the unfavourable climate. In Kungsträdgården, an outdoor ice rink is built and you can skate around listening to music and enjoying the afternoon sun. If more adventurous skating is your cup of tea then open water skating is made possible on the many frozen lakes outside of town. On these frozen lakes, you can also go pimple fishing. This entails drilling a hole through the ice, dropping the line into the water and sitting on a stool waiting for a passing fish to bite. What might seem to some like savage amusement is actually a very meditative way to spend a few hours. A morning walk on the frozen Mälaren is another popular pastime. Wrapped warmly in think coats, woollen hats and scarves, Stockholmers walk on the water and finish with brunch or a cup of hot chocolate at a nearby restaurant. Outside of the city, in the forests, tracks are made for cross-country skiing, and even parks such as Tantolunden and Gärdet plough shorter tracks for the urbanites to practice on.
As the ice descends on the city, a sense of cosiness develops. In Stockholm’s Old Town, the narrowed cobbled streets seem to be transformed back into previous centuries. There’s nothing more romantic on a winter’s evening than to stroll here, chunky snow flakes pouring down from the sky, the crunch of the ice and snow underfoot.
Stockholm’s smart embracing of ice has even manifested in an Ice Bar, located in the Nordic Sea Hotel. Indoors, wrapped in thermal clothes, you can partake of a vodka drink out of a glass made of ice. This place is an offshoot from the Ice Hotel in the arctic north of Sweden, which is well worth a visit.
It would be an error of judgement to think Stockholm is only a summer city. There is a great deal to do even in the frozen months.