Traditions

Modern Swedish culture is filled with many traditions. In this article you will be able to read more about some of the more popular Swedish traditions.

It is always somewhat dangerous writing about tradition. What is a tradition, really? In the world of a student nation, where there is approximately a 4 year shelf life for active members, a tradition does not need to be more than a few years old to be a deeply ingrained part of life for current students. Similarly, how does one define just what a tradition is? Every year thousands upon thousands of Swedes celebrate Ramadan, but one would not generally view Ramadan as a stereotypical "Swedish tradition". So this article will ignore these important metaphysical discussions and instead give an insight into a number of traditions that can be described as quintessentially Swedish, or at the least Uppsalian!

Easter (påsk)

If you see a band of unruly children running around town with facepaint on, it is entirely possible that it is in fact Easter, and the small terrors you see wreaking destruction upon Uppsala are in fact children dressed as witches - or perhaps more literally "Easter Hags" (påskkärringar). To blend in amongst this crowd you will need rosy cheeks, a dress, some sort of headwear (a handerchief is good) and an apron. You can try and trade little drawings you have done for lollies ("candy" for those of you brought up speaking an incorrect version of the English language).

You will also see Easter branches (påskris - which does not mean "Easter rice", as I once believed). These are branches, usually of birch, with feathers or fluff attached to them. Once upon a time these branches were used as Scandinavian substitutes for palm leaves while celebrating Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, but these days they are equally popular for their colour value.

Easter eggs are also popular, but the ones in Sweden are large, hollow and made of cardboard. You then fill the egg with your favourite lollies.

Easter food is pretty much the same as Christmas food (see below). They even go so far as to make the delightful "julmust" drink (see below) available again, although this time it is called "påskmust".

Walpurgis Eve (or as many, irrespective of grammar, say "The Last of April")

The last day of April, often referred to as "Valborg" (despite it actually being Valborgsmässoafton) is the central day in the Swedish student's life, and indeed it is a popular holiday for Swedes in general - helped by the fact that the next day, May 1, is a holiday - except for those up early to demonstrate. There is fairly rigorous programme of events for Valborg, which looks a little something like this:

Begin at 7am with a champagne breakfast. Popular places are the park in front of the Castle (slottsparken), the park behind Carolina Rediviva (engelska parken) and the park at Ekonomikum (ekonomikumparken). Avoid looking like a fjortis by not pumping old punk music from a battery powered stereo and drinking folköl.

At 10am the forsränning begins. The best translation for this word is that a few hundred brave/stupid students have constructed their own rafts and race down the Fyris River. Great entertainment, the river is always crowded with people wanting to see the race. It starts up near ICA Luthagen (sort of) and finishes down near the student gym, Svettis.

Lunch time: you should take part in a sillunch. While this translates literally to "herring lunch" things really aren't that bad! Get a picnic mat and grab your friends and some food and go to one of the parks mentioned in point 1. For those interested, the classic sillunch consists of pickled herring, boiled potatoes with dill served with sourcream and chives. While matjessill is arguably the most classic, senapssill (herring with mustard) might suit the new pallette better.

Two events happen simultaneously at 3pm. The more family oriented  event occurs along the hill beside the castle (slottsbacken). Here you will see hundreds of newly graduated students with their special white hats taking a victory lap from Carolina Rediviva down to town - it is a spectacle witnessed by thousands upon thousands of Uppsala residents. The other competing activity is known as the champagnegallop. This event is held at pretty much every nation, simultaneously, and there are often long queues to get in. Beginning to queue at 2pm for a 3pm start is not unreasonable. Once inside the goal is to waste as much money as possible by buying bottle after bottle of champagne and spraying it on everyone. Seriously. A bottle of champagne will set you back around 100 crowns.

At around 5pm most nations will begin with their more or less formal dinners. Check with your respective nation what time it actually begins.

At 9pm in front of Gunillaklockan, the bell near to the castle, the Curator Curatorem will hold a speech, followed by the dulcid tones of one of Uppsala's most famous choirs, Allmänna Sången.

Continue partying at the nations!

Sweden's National Day

This day is celebrated on the 6th of June. It is not unreasonable to say that most people don't do anything special at all on this day, and that in general Norway's national day is much more highly rated!

Midsummer

Unfortunately many students travel abroad during the Swedish summer, which means that they not only miss one of the most beautiful times of the year, but also the wonderful tradition of midsummer, where even in Uppsala the sun hardly sets at this time of year. Midsummer Eve is always on the Friday nearest to the summer solstice, usually around the 20th of June.

Midsummer Eve is a great occasion in the Swedish calendar. Traditionally people get dressed up in folkdräkt, the folk outfit, decorate maypoles with floral wreaths, dance (you have surely heard the song "små grodorna" which is a Midsummer classic) and people have picnics. As usual a sillunch (see "Easter") is a common picnic food.

Midsummer is also a time where one lights bonfires, goes out dancing and it is even a time where love is said to blossom!

Crayfish parties (kräftskivor)

Look out for these events from the beginning of August. A crayfish party is often held outside where a long table is set up. The area is decorated with lanterns and people often have stupid party hats on. During the party everyone eats small crayfish, bread and drinks snaps.

The crayfish are eaten cold, and they are often bought from the store frozen. They aren't raw, they are quickly boiled and prepared with a lot of dill directly after they have been caught, then they are frozen and packed. There are differing opinions as to the optimal time for thawing the crayfish. You should not in any way expect to become full from eating the crayfish, which is why there is a lot of bread to go with the it!

All Saint's Day

While halloween is pretty much not celebrated in any larger form in Sweden, All Saint's Day is, although in contrast to other celebrations there is no herring, no potatoes, no dill and no snaps. All Saint's Day is an altogether more sombre affair, but no less beautiful for that. Many people will go to the graveyard and light candles for their deceased relatives. It can be a fantastic experience to walk through the old cemetary near engelskaparken and see the thousands of lit candles.

Advent

While in many countries Advent is only celebrated within a relgious context, Advent in Sweden has for many become secularised. While northern Sweden is usually covered in snow by the first of December, the portion of Sweden where the largest proportion of the population live is yet to have its landscape beautified and lightened by the snow. Thus, the first day of Advent represents a time many look forward to, and town is almost instantly brightened by the appearance of candles and other special forms of lighting. It is common to see Advent stars (adventsstjärnor) hanging in people's windows, as well as Advent candles (usually a row of four candles). If people are using real candles for Advent then the tradition is to light one new candle on each successive Sunday before Christmas. You too should take advantage of this tradition and light up the late autumn/early winter darkness!

Also during this time of the year you will hear the "Advent Calendar" (adventskalendern) on the radio, usually around 7am on the station P3. This is a radio drama that is divided up over the 24 days before Christmas. You can also watch the Advent Calendar on TV. This Advent Calendar is completely different to the one on the radio, so it is entirely possible to listen to or watch both. The Advent Calendar on TV usually has a long list of Swedish celebrities involved and is different every year. It is shown on SVT around 7am as well.

Lucia

The 13th of December is a day, or rather a night, where Swedes celebrate the somewhat obscure Saint Lucy, or Lucia. Saint Lucia's Day is celebrated predominantly in Italy (Lucia was afterall a Sicilian), Sweden and the other Nordic countries. The way in which it is celebrated in Sweden can be traced back to the old Scandinavian celebration of Lussi night, the darkest night of the year. Saint Lucia is a celebration of light. A range of Lucia carols are sung, usually in concert with a so called Luciatåg - the Lucia procession.

The Lucia procession consists of a number of boys or girls dressed in white costumes carrying lights. They are lead by a Lucia, who has a crown of candles in her hair. This rather combustible combination of hair and candles has lead to most modern Lucias having battery driven electronic candles in their hair. The boys in the procession (stjärngossar) have long pointed hats and stars and should not be confused with the KKK.

Around the time of Lucia you may very well find the scent of saffron everywhere you go. Saffron buns, so called luccekattar (or luccebullar) are traditional eaten at this time, and almost all places that sell food will sell these small brightly coloured buns. They are best eaten fresh from the oven (they become dry quite easily because of the astringent effect of the saffron) and you can wash down your bun with a small cup of glögg, the Swedish mulled wine.

Glögg is a popular drink from Saint Lucia Day all the way through to Christmas. It is available in both red and white varieties, and the sort that you buy in the supermarket is alcohol free. Glögg is traditionally drunk hot in small cups with blanched almonds and raisins (in the drink).