Something Swedish

America’s Influence on Sweden – Valentine’s Day

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It’s strange for a country with such old history, rich culture, strong traditions, and festive holidays to adapt a “new” holiday. Especially from such a young country. But the heart wants what the heart wants I suppose! There’s nothing new about Saint Valentines Day, the origin dates back to Ancient Rome- however the way we celebrate it now is reasonably new. It has twisted and changed throughout history which has left Sweden only to have recently started to celebrate the holiday as we know it. A day for lovers – when flowers, candies and cards represent the romance and emotion of a relationship. It wasn’t until around the 1980’s that the theme of heart shaped chocolates, roses, and cupids invaded Sweden.

A lot of people despise this holiday because they believe Valentines Day was only invented for consumerism… in Sweden that is actually how it was first introduced. How did Valentines Day start in Sweden? By selling flowers. In the 1960’s it was flower-sellers that tried to push the idea of Valentines Day, mimicking the American pitch in an effort to boost sales. The bait didn’t take for quite some years, as it has only become popular and more regularly celebrated in the 1980’s and is not considered an official holiday. The essence of Valentines Day is the same as in America but on a much smaller scale from what I can tell. Here in Sweden it is called “alla hjärtans dag,” which means “All Hearts Day,” although it is still otherwise known and sometimes advertised as Valentines day.

Despite spreading to Sweden because of a sales pitch, Valentine’s Day is much more than that, historically and culturally. It does not originate from American Greeting card companies, and represents more than consumerism, even if that might be a big part of it. Saint Valentines Day is named after a Christian priest in Rome who was buried on February 14th, it is said that when the law forbid all marriages he secretly performed the ceremonies. It wasn’t until 1382 that Saint Valentine was romanticized in a poem in England by Chaucer:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

Since this poem, Valentine’s Day became more common in literature as a symbol for love and a day for romance. Over the next centuries there are a few citations from different poets and authors mentioning “Valentine” in a romantic setting or  to celebrate a marriage. This context lead to dedicated sentimental writings, hand written love notes being exchanged on February 14th. In the early 19th century cards started to become manufactured and mass produced. It wasn’t until the 20th century that cards were joined by chocolates and flowers as a token of affection and even later when jewelery became part of the mix. The original Valentine’s were simply hand written notes, a pure way to express and share emotion.

It’s nice to have learned about the origins of Valentines Day, I no longer feel tainted by everyone’s negative vibes from the over consumerism. We might not need a day to celebrate our love, but it’s nice to have one, at least a day to appreciate someone special. Every day is a celebration, today was just a little more so.

In New York you are aware of Valentines day months in advance. The decorations, advertisements, teddy bears and heart shaped chocolates start appearing as soon as the Christmas decorations are gone in early/mid January. It’s a big deal and expectations are high.  You can’t go into a store without  an overwhelming sea of red and pink clouding your judgement.

While most Swede’s tend to celebrate in some way or form – Valentine’s Day seems to be easily overlooked here. Which is reasonable since it is so “new” and not pushed as hard. I scoured the all the store windows in town looking for sign, displays, and decorations, I was surprised by the small amount I found:

There was a nice display at one of the florists (Photo didn’t come out), and I admittedly didn’t feel like walking to the bakery. However, I think I covered all other bases. A small assortment of cards, some selection of heart shaped candies and cookies, a bunch of small-medium plushies, a few books, and some other items because they were red or pink. There’s a lack of decoration and the signs on the windows were so small I nearly missed them despite being on the hunt for anything red, pink, or in the shape of a heart.

So, despite being a holiday that began with selling flowers, Valentine’s Day sales in Sweden pales in comparison to the amount of products dedicated to it in America where most stores pounce on the opportunity and are loaded with Valentine’s Day themed merchandise, or a sale in name of the festivities. However, I read that sales for cosmetics, perfumes, jewelery, etc for Valentine’s Day is second only to Mothers day. So, it seems Swede’s might not buy as much into the cute stuffed animals, cards, and flowers, but they still know how to shower their loved ones in affection in some way, be it presents, pastries, or a nice dinner.

This was my first Valentine’s Day in Sweden, our first Valentines Day together in person, and our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple!

No pressure, right? I’ve never fallen heavy into the Valentine’s Day hype, but this year was special. And I’m proud to say that hubby exceeded my expectations and managed to surprise me (I love surprises!)

I planned on starting the day by cooking hubby breakfast early in the morning but he woke up earlier and beat me to it! He served me crepes with strawberry jam and yogurt. I guess I’ll have to use my  heart shaped cookie cutters on cookies soon instead of eggs like I had intended (and practiced!)-

Then we had lunch at a restaurant we haven’t gone to before and had a nice meal before he went to work. While he was at work I made him a small card, prepped a few candles, a carafe of red lingon berry juice with special Valentine’s Day heart shaped cookies garnished with cranberries and a bowl of heart shaped snacks we often enjoy.

When hubby came home I was met at the door with flowers he picked out, knowing that I hate roses. (They are supposed to symbolize love but I think they are too widely used, a standard flower with no thought) The flowers he chose were ones we used used at our wedding. He said the florist was packed and finding anything aside from a rose was difficult today. I appreciate the sentiment, effort, and thought more than any rose.

After 10 minutes of not being allowed near the kitchen I was lead with my eyes closed to a dark room only illuminated by three candles and a table filled with cheeses, meat, crackers, fresh veggies, and a marinated artichoke/olive/pepper mix with a bottle of wine.  Dessert was chocolate fondue with cut up strawberries, bananas, and pineapples to dip. Yum!

Best Valentines Day ever. Thank you hunny. Jag älskar dig!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! ~ Glad alla hjärtans dag allihopa!


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8 thoughts on “America’s Influence on Sweden – Valentine’s Day

  1. Thanks for this cool post! Has Halloween invaded Sweden yet, too?

    Also, your husband looks like a good cook! Yum!

  2. Hej! I look forward to reading your blog more often! I have not met so many people from the States here in Sweden, & it feels good to just read someone else’s thought… an expat kindred spirit, i guess. hehe. i have lived here for a year & a half, have gotten a job, can speak swedish (not completely fluent), graduated from SFI classes last June (the 12,000 kr.is amazing!), and have settled into life as a swedish wife… but, i still miss the states in many ways, while taking in an enjoying sweden. how long have you lived here now?

    nice to meet you! ~ liz

    • It’s always great to meet expats who have been here for awhile and are making it work! I’ve only been here for 2 months, so I have a lot ahead of me, I’m excited to see how it goes. Nice meeting you too!

  3. If you want some great organic food try lunch at Spis Deli in Lilla Torg. Really great place.

  4. Pingback: Halloween in Sweden « Something Swedish

  5. I am trying to print this entire article for a VASA program tomorrow. had lots of interruptions. Hoping to use this wonderful story as the background for the meeting. It is wonderful!!! Arlynn

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