I got a call a few minutes after midnight last night from my brother wishing me a Happy New Years. He left a voicemail and while doing so, perplexed himself – and me – with the following realization “Hey Meg, just calling to wish you a Happy New Year! I know the ball just dropped by you….wait – do they drop a ball there? What drops? What do you do?”
Honestly, I didn’t know. How DO you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden? I’ve been living in Sweden for 8 years and wasn’t really sure what constituted for being Swedish tradition since tradition is local to the cities or towns you live in and the households you grew up in, or shaped by the company you keep. For the past 5 years we’ve celebrated in Denmark with a group of friends– the tradition there being to watch the Danish Queen give her speech about the year that passed and the year to come (and a friendly drinking game to take a sip every time she messes up saying what she is trying to say). Every year I understand more (with subtitles on, of course) and enjoy the tradition more, not needing to wait for the cue but hearing/reading the subtleties myself. I always like listening to the speech, the drinking part is just a fun way to get the party started.
But alas, this year we were sick and had to stay home – so a last-minute Swedish New Year’s celebration it would be, just the two of us and a lot of tissues. So, what DOES drop in Sweden? I mean, I know we don’t have a giant glowing 700-pound disco ball descending down a huge flagpole like the one in Time Square, but what do we do instead? My first thought was that surely our royal family also has a speech on New Year’s Eve, but no, no they do not. This is instead done on Christmas, apparently. I’ve never actually watched it – or knew about it until writing this post. Something new to do next year.
And so, I reflected, I pondered, I asked, I googled, and I procured a little list – How DOES one celebrate New Year’s in Sweden?
The Watching of the Dinner
It turns out that Sweden and Denmark DO have a New Year’s tradition in common: watching the short sketch “Dinner for One” about an upper-class Englishwoman having her 90th birthday party dinner with her now deceased friends, in which her butler pretends to be each of them – and thus drinking for four people. “Grevinnan och betjänten” (The countess and the butler) has been aired every year in Denmark since 1980 and in Sweden since 1969 (banned in Sweden from 1963-1969 due to the heavy alcohol consumption). Our friends in Denmark were surprised that we were watching it so early here in Sweden, at 19:45 (7:45pm), while it is aired later there – making it easier to drink along with Miss Sophie and her four “friends”.
The Reciting of the Poem
New Year’s eve is a celebration, everyone knows that. There’s always live music and concerts being aired on television to kick off the upcoming year. A few minutes before the clock tolls midnight, we are met with a somber reading of a classic poem “Ring Out, Wild Bells” (called “Nyårsklockan” in Swedish). Written by a British poet in 1850, the text was translated and introduced as a Swedish New Year’s tradition in 1895. The translation is a lose one, having taken many liberties with the text, cadence, and structure – making it more it’s own.
From 1895-1955 the poem was almost exclusively read by the same actor, when he died the tradition was put on hold until 1977/1978 (when “Tolvslaget på skansen” first aired on SVT, Swedish Television). A total of four actors recited the poem from 1977-2014, when the tradition was changed to having a different actor each year instead. Each person having their own way of reading, leaving something new to discuss each year (some omit certain lines, some time it perfectly with the bells tolling at midnight, others ending too early or too late – making the toast and countdown a wild card.
The Lighting of the Sky
Around midnight is when the magic happens. Fireworks, that is. That’s the biggest way Swedes show that the New Year has arrived. Not confetti, not honking horns, not banging on pots and pans, not balloons. Just a ton of fireworks lighting up the night sky. It might not be unique, but it does mean bringing in the new year with a bright colorful bang. Come midnight you’ll see balconies filled with spectators waiting for a light show. Until recently, fireworks have been easily available to purchase in Sweden. Just this year (june 2019) certain types became more regulated, requiring obtaining permits and attending special training courses to be able to buy and use…but we didn’t notice a difference.
The Throwing of the Shoes
An old tradition that I’ve only read about. My husband confirmed that he has heard about it and maybe even done it as a child – so I don’t know how relevant this one is, but I’m gonna include it anyway! Come midnight everyone is to throw their shoe at the door and see how it lands. If your shoe falls facing the door it can mean moving or change.
The Listening of the Song
This is by no means an actual tradition, but it couldn’t go without mentioning because surely “Happy New Year” by Swedish pop band legends ABBA must get played more in Sweden than anywhere else on New Years Eve (I have no statistical data for this, as it is just for fun)
There are probably a hundred different ways to celebrate New Year’s eve, and there’s probably a lot of “traditional” things I am missing (one list mentioned ordering Kebab pizza and watching Ivanhoe, which has been aired on New Years Day for decades – but I was more interested in the eve). So, the question isn’t “How DO you celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden” but, “How do YOU celebrate New Year’s Eve in Sweden?” Are your traditions inherently “Swedish” or created by your friends or family? Do you have anything to add to the list? Let’s hear it! And let’s have a great 2020!
Gott Nytt År Från Sverige! Happy New Year from Sweden