Something Swedish


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Swedens National Day

Blue and yellow flags everywhere you look- Swedish pride is soaring today!

Even Google Waved its Swedish Flag!

Sweden celebrates June 6th because it marks the date when Gustav Vasa became King in 1523, making Sweden independent from Denmark and Norway for the first time. Also, on June 6th in 1809 Sweden adopted a new constitution.  Sveriges Nationaldag is a new name for the holiday, from 1916-1983 it was called Svenska flaggans dag (Swedish Flag day). This National Day has only recently become a red day, meaning a day off, since 2005. Swedes are known for not being overly boastful, so in an effort to make the holiday more popular the government decided to make it a red day so the people have the day off to celebrate. Being so new, many surveys have revealed that many Swedes still don’t know how to observe it and just enjoy the day off. Some people celebrate by watching the Royal family’s ceremony in Stockholm. Most people consider Mid Summer to be their national day for celebration.

Today I went out in hopes of finding something special for the occasion – but was only met with closed stores and empty streets. Red days make Halmstad a ghost town, but I was determined to do something to celebrate my first Nationaldag in Sweden. I decided to play Swedish Flag Scavenger Hunt in town.

I thought it would be a good day to visit one of my favorite places, an open air museum with old Swedish cottages. It is up on a high “mountain” which gives a great view of the city. To my delight, this is exactly where the rest of the town was! I finally found the celebration – and people, and flag jackpot! I couldn’t understand the speeches or songs, but  I didn’t need to. Just seeing everyone waving Swedish flags, listening, laughing, clapping, and being proud was enough.

Years ago there was a competition to create the national pastry to be eaten on this very special day,  it is called Nationaldagsbakelsen. But many people don’t know about it, it seems. Even googling for it is a challenge. All I can gather is that there are Strawberries and Almond paste. In hopes to eat this national specialty I went to the bakery in the morning, thinking it would be much like the semla craze, but alas the bakery was closed along with all other stores since it is a red day. No wonder this cake is so elusive and unknown, how should one be introduced to a special cake if the bakeries are closed on the day you should be eating it? Of course, there are recipes and perhaps people buy it the day before?

I decided to make my own version:

I might have cheated with a small premade snake cake (perfect size for two people who love cake), but I cut it in half and added a nice layer of Almond paste to make it special and even more Swedish. If it was a full size cake I would have added strawberry slices around the flag of blueberries and banana, but I think it was a huge success! Hubby came home with blue and (unbloomed) yellow flowers and a wooden Swedish flag so I have a keepsake from my first Nationaldag!

Lösgodis – Loose Candy

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In the U.S we have a certain image of Swedish people. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and built like Norse Gods/Goddesses. Upon my arrival here I learned that resisting the temptation of sweets was not their secret. Did you know that Sweden eats the most loose candy per capita in the world? It is also the largest importer of candy in the world. (Think about there only being around 10 million people in Sweden- that’s about the total population of New York City) The amount of loose candy eaten in Sweden is said to make up for 4% of the country’s total sugar consumption!

I know I have talked a lot about Swedish pastries and treats (Here, here, here, here, and here), and true to both American and Swedish form I have eaten my fair share of these delicious baked goods. However! This Swedish candy culture has never passed my lips. That’s right. I have not fallen weak to the loose candy craze! I have not picked up a shovel and filled a colorful paper bag*  with anything my sweet tooth desires. I really am proud of myself because no matter what type of store you step foot in, small or large, food or none, you are met with this: (*similar to a bag or bucket of popcorn from the movie  theater, eaten with absent yet impressive speed)

This is not a candy store but a place to buy movies. The Lösgodis take up about 1/4 of this store while the rest is filled with DVDs and blue-ray movies to buy. Maybe a movie store is a bad example, as there is usually some (small) selection of treats, but that pales in comparison. The concept of loose goodies is not an unfamiliar one, but never to such a extent unless it was an actual candy store. Even then, the loose candy selection would only make up for a rather small part.

Supermarket

Americans are known for overeating unhealthy food and having a heavy sweet tooth, so I was caught off guard when I saw such quantities of candy in a seemingly health conscious country.

This candy craze is so integrated into the Swedish culture that there is even such a tradition as “Lördagsgodis” which means Saturday Candy. In the 1950’s  it was recommended by the Board of Health to limit children’s candy intake to once a week instead of daily in an effort to slow down tooth decay. I have read on a few blogs of attempts to get their children off of the candy by giving them money on Saturdays instead of the sweet treats. It seems there is almost no getting around having a candy-filled child in Sweden, as the Lösgodis are everywhere and all the other kids are eating them.

It is not only the children that love Lösgodis. I have seen bags of Lösgodis given as presents (to adults) and met with excitement- Swedes do love their candy. Even if they didn’t pick it themselves, they are sure to enjoy what ever is inside because all of the candy is classic.

Classic to Swedes. This past weekend my husbands nephew had some Lösgodis that we were picking from and I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t like any of them. To the point that I had to spit them out. The family laughed and was shocked because they are all beloved classic flavors. Two types of favorites I have noticed are marshmallow candies and salty black liquorice. There is also a selection of hard candies, coated candies, gummy, caramel, and chocolate.

To be honest I am a bit skeptical to even try any Lösgodis because I have not yet tasted any Swedish candy that suits my Americanized taste buds. I’ve been told that the difference is that Americans prefer a more sugary and sweeter taste, which seems true. Of course I have only tried a very small fraction of the selection, so I am not yet a complete candy outcast.

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Daddy Pram Parade

When people visit Sweden they look around and notice something different: Lots of fathers with babies. In the U.S. it is pretty uncommon to see a too many father-child outings, especially at infant age. Not to say it doesn’t happen, or that every once in awhile you’ll see a dad pushing a stroller, but when compared to Sweden you are talking about a different ball park.

This is something I’ve read a lot about, people bring it up in blogs and on forums all the time, being shocked and asking questions like “Is divorce rate high in Sweden,” “Are there a lot of gay parents in Sweden,” and “is there a lot of unemployment in Sweden.” The answer is that Sweden gives the father the same opportunity for time off with the baby as the mother- which isn’t a measly 2 weeks off work with no pay: Paternal Leave is paid for 480 days, shared between mother and father. Parents get to keep their job while spending two years with their baby, while getting most of their salary. Out of that amount, 60 days are specifically allotted to each parent- the rest is divided between them in which ever way they want. The 480 days is an active option until the child is eight years old. Sweden is known for its gender equality and having a very supportive and flexible family care system and because of this benefit you will often see fathers with newborns, not only the mothers. Sweden.se

After being here for five months I  still never really noticed the male to female ratio of people pushing strollers or prams- I’ve read about it and I’m sure I’ve witnessed it but it never really phased me.

Until today.

While taking a walk around the river with the hubby we came face to face with a Daddy Pram Parade. I wish I would have thought of taking out the camera phone, words are not enough to describe it. The trail around the river is a dirt path that cuts through a wooded area, frequented by joggers, runners and dog walkers. In front of us we saw a man with a pram heading our way, when we stepped aside to let him pass it turns out it was a LINE of men with prams- perhaps eight of them. They were all dressed in some sort of running outfit and walking at a decent pace. All the babies were within the infant range.

I was so excited! It took a moment for me to stop smiling and tell my husband that only in Sweden would there be some sort of club for fathers with babies. He didn’t think about it that way until he recounted that there were so many of them, and its pretty unlikely that eight couples who knew each other before would have children simultaneously. (Cult births!?) Then I wondered where one would go to find other fathers who want to get in some exercise while watching the little one? In a small town like Halmstad, with all the kids the same age? Unlikely. They must have met in some sort of birthing class, like Lamaze!

It was an amazing cultural nod, I would never see something like that in New York.


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Witches in Sweden

Today, the Thursday before Easter, when you are out and about in Sweden you might find yourself face to face with a witch. A child pretending to be an Easter witch, “påskkäring” dressed in colorful mismatched aprons and scarfs with painted rosy red and pocked cheeks. Going around dressed as a witch knocking on doors in hopes of candy or money in exchange for a drawing might sound like Halloween to me or any other American, but in Sweden it is part of Swedish Easter tradition. A tradition with roots that reach back hundreds of years.

In the 15-1600’s the Thursday before Easter, “skärtorsdag,” was a dangerous and frightful day; the day when all the witches (häxor) flew to a mountain called blåkulla to visit the devil. This visit was to “meet,”  “party,” “dance,” “dance naked,” or “have sex” with the devil (djävulen) – depending on who you ask or where you read. Regardless of what the witches did with the devil, they had to fly on their broomsticks to & fro over Sweden in order to get there. People made huge fires to ward the witches away from landing near them, they closed their chimney flutes and shutters, they shot into the air. This fear struck on both Thursday and three days later upon their mass return on Saturday. These witches were said to go to church on Sunday with everyone else, but would be discovered because they said their prayers backwards.

The execution of the last witch in Sweden was in 1720, with gruesome witch trials in the 1670s, since then children have started to take on the role of the witches. You will also find many houses witch decorations, both beautiful and ugly. Even the black cat is found, believed to be the devil. It is not only the witches that stuck around throughout the years, but also the fires. If you celebrate Easter in Sweden be prepared to encounter some bonfires and/or  fireworks.

Easter is a very big deal in Sweden, up there with Christmas and Midsommar. Instead of celebrating on Sunday, as I am used to, we celebrate on Saturday in Sweden with a four day holiday. Some Swedes will go to church for pask, but as you can tell by this hexing tradition alone, Swedish Easter predates Christian beliefs. There are also eggs, chickens, rabbits, candy, and more traditions that I am more familiar with that I will go into detail about when I am back from our Easter weekend, “påskhelgen,” with family.

The very first time I came to Sweden it was for Easter three years ago, upon arrival I saw a little girl in the airport dressed as a witch and I thought that either she or I was crazy. Now that I know what it all means I wish I snapped a photo. This might not be my first Easter in Sweden but it all means so much more now, the culture, tradition, food, and language.

Glad påsk! Happy Easter!

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