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Traditional Festivities in Sweden

Introduction

 
Swedish Advent Ascension Day King Knut's Day
Swedish All Saints Day Swedish Christmas Swedish Lent
April Fools Day Crayfish Festival Swedish Midsummers
Whit Sunday Swedish Dala Horse Story Swedish New Years
Sour Herring Premier Swedish Easter Swedish Recipes
Lucia Day Swedish Father's Day St. Martin's Day
Swedish National Day Swedish Mother's Day Walpurgis Eve
 
Sweden may not be very big, but it is big enough for one to experience many different natural and cultural environments.  Those who travel by land from the southern tip in the province of Skåne a couple of thousand kilometers north to well beyond the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lappland experience a kaleidoscopic succession of landscapes.  First, the billowing plains of Skåne with scattered foursquare farm buildings and villages of the Continental type.  Then, the wild, forested highlands of Småland, where farms seem astonishingly far apart.  Thereafter, yet more fertile farmland, industrial communities, large towns and big lakes.
 
Although Swedes themselves call this "central Sweden", we are still only half-way to the mid-point of our journey!
 
Onward, now toward blue-grey ridges and a vast expanse of forest on the northern horizon.  If we choose the coastal route along the Gulf of Bothnia, we find small farms and isolated concentrations of heavy industry that have grown up through centuries of forestry and mining in these parts.  If we choose instead to travel inland, farther west, we find ourselves in the midst of the seemingly endless forests and mountains of Värmland, Dalarna and Härjedalen.  Here, when we may think we are approaching the end of the world, we have finally reached Sweden's mid-point.
 

The northern half of the country, although not untouched, is largely wilderness.  Here the population is settled in the river valleys.  Distances are great.  Finally, in the very far north - even more sparsely populated land - we find tundra-like expanses.  Sweden is a long, long country.

 
Sweden's length and her northerly situation combine to give her several contrasting climatic zones.  The seasons are quite distinct throughout the country, although - as we shall see - they occur at somewhat different points in the calendar year in different parts of Sweden.  The progress of the seasons is much celebrated in the Swedish culture, with the coming of Spring perhaps the most important event of the year.  The weather is a favorite topic of conversation, whatever the season.  "Winter is long and summer is short, but intense", as the saying goes and geography and topography accentuate the truth of this adage in some parts of the country.  Whereas the seasons are relatively evenly balanced in southerly Skåne, the first snow may come to the far north as early as August and winter may well linger on into June.  By way of compensation for a long, dark winter northern Sweden is graced with sunlight round the clock during the height of the summer.
 
Given these variations in geography and climate, it is hardly surprising that custom and tradition vary, too.  When southern Sweden is welcoming the Spring midst flowers and twittering larks, fur-clad Swedes farther north are still slogging through deep snow.  Contact with the outside world - and lack thereof - has also left its imprint on Swedish folk customs.  Those who lived along the seacoast or on the shores of inland waterways tended to have broader horizons than those who lived in the deep, dark forests in the centuries before roads and highways  criss-crossed the land.  Coastal areas received far more influences from abroad.  The southern provinces that belonged to Denmark from time to time up to 1658 maintain customs and traditions that are more closely related to Continental Europe than to the rest of Sweden.
 
When it comes to the celebration of festivals and holidays traditions are most elaborate and best preserved in more heavily populated regions, where villages are not too far from one another and the feeling of community has been strongest.  It is hard to preserve traditions if there is no-one to celebrate with!  One should also keep in mind the fact that most festivals and holidays once served more important functions than they do today.  Modern-day Swedes still celebrate them, but more or less out of context, so to speak.
 
Most of the older holidays in the Swedish calendar have a religious background.  The church has exerted a strong influence on Swedish society and culture.  This is hardly unique; most cultures are imbued with religious beliefs and ceremonies.  In Sweden, however, a strong religious influence prevails over traditions despite a marked decline in church-going and active religious practice in the last generation or so.  Swedes continue to marry, to be christened and buried under the auspices and with the blessing of the church.
 
Thus religious tradition is a vital element in many Swedish festivals and holidays.  Even traditions from the pre-Reformation era linger on, despite the fact that over 400 years have passed since King Gustav Vasa introduced Lutheranism and banned the Catholic faith.  Some of the holidays were directly related to the rhythm of work on the farm in a society based on subsistence agriculture.  Thus, the religious holidays had a practical function.  In view of the profound changes in Swedish society, one might expect many traditional celebrations to have died out.
 
But, no.  Tradition is deeply rooted, and festivals prevail even though their original foundations may have been eroded.  While some such occasions have indeed died out, in most cases tradition has been adapted to fit the conditions of modern life so as to maintain a sense of continuity.
 
One major change has occurred, however.  When customs and traditions were passed on from generation to generation in the same place, local varieties of traditions - sometimes confined to a single village or even a household - developed.  Nowadays, traditions are both spreading and tending to become uniform throughout the country.  The mass media are mainly responsible for this trend.  Parents are not alone in teaching their children age-old songs and games; the cakes and biscuits steaming in the kitchen may not be Grandma's recipes, but something featured in a magazine.  This fundamental change has meant the disappearance of many nuances, but it has also enabled many traditions to survive.  Another stereotyping factor is the increasing mobility of the Swedish people in the past century.  Only one hundred years ago Sweden was mainly a nation of farmers, and towns were few.  Today 83 percent live in cities and urban areas, and only four percent make their living farming.  After nearly a century of mass migration within the country it is only natural that people tend to lose touch with traditions characteristic of their ancestral homes.
 
This little brochure can hardly pretend to say everything there is to be said about Swedish festivals and holidays.  Rather, it simply sets out to describe some of the festivities guests in our country may encounter which may merit an explanation.  While many celebrations resemble traditions in other countries, some are specifically Swedish.  As is the case with cultures in general, some features are peculiarly our own, but in much we are akin.
 
Source: "Traditional Festivities in Sweden"; Author: Ingemar Liman; Published by: The Swedish Institute, ISBN 91-520-0113-X
 
 
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