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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 28, 2008
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Festive Sweden
May 28, 2008 By W.¯.    
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Swedes celebrate many different holidays. These include both state and religious holidays, among them traditional Christian festivals and festivities that originated from pagan traditions.

Like all nations in Europe, the Swedes celebrate the major Christian holidays such as Christmas (called Jul in Swedish), Easter (Pask), Pentecost (Pingst), and the Ascension (Kristi himmelsfärd). These are celebrated according to the traditions of the Protestant faith, which dominates in Sweden.

The Christmas season in Sweden has an additional flavor: Dec. 13 marks the celebration of Sankta Lucia as a saint who brings light into people's homes during winter's long, dark nights. The most important feature of St. Lucia's Day is a parade of young girls dressed in white, all wearing garlands with lighted candles. This festival, originating from traditional devotions in honor of St. Lucia from Italy, marks the start of the winter festive season that culminates at Christmas.

Swedish holidays with pagan roots primarily include Walpurgis Night (Valborg), on April 30, and Midsummer's Eve (Midsommar), a movable feast celebrated on a Friday night between June 19 and 25 depending on the solar calendar.

Walpurgis Night is celebrated in different forms in different regions of Sweden. One of the main forms of celebration is to light huge bonfires, a custom that developed in what is now Sweden in the 18th century. The bonfires symbolize joy linked with the fact that nature is entering a time of spring/summer luxuriance.

Another widespread tradition is to sing songs about the coming of spring. Most of them are from the 19th century, and they spread across the country mainly thanks to student song festivals. Today the loudest Walpurgis Night songs can be heard in cities with a long academic tradition, such as Uppsala and Lund. University graduates often join in the ceremonious singing, which usually starts in the morning and continues all day on April 30.

At the university of Göteborg, the traditional singing of Walpurgis Night developed into a kind of carnival parade called The Cortege, which first took place in 1909 and has been a regular item of the festivities ever since.

In the provinces of southern Sweden, young people collect green branches in the forest at dusk and use them to decorate the houses in their village, a service for which the youngsters receive a symbolic fee paid in eggs.

Midsummer's Eve is a special holiday for the Swedish people. Though it did not originate in Sweden, this holiday is celebrated there in a different form than elsewhere in Western Europe. The most important custom is setting up the midsommarstangen, a kind of maypole up to a dozen meters tall, around which people dance to folk music. Researchers say the custom reached Sweden in the Middle Ages or perhaps even earlier. Some relate it to an ancient phallic symbol of fertility. Before the pole is set upright, it is completely covered with decorations made from leaves and colorful flowers gathered nearby. The dancers often wear traditional folk costumes.

Midsummer's Eve involves a special menu that includes spring fruit and vegetables, including new potatoes and early strawberries, in addition to marinated herring and cream. Alcohol usually flows freely during the festivities, which has led to the development of a long list of drinking songs over the centuries. In some provincial regions of Sweden, there is also a tradition to decorate houses and farm buildings with green branches to ensure a plentiful harvest and good health for the farmers and their livestock.

Midsummer's Eve, which according to ancient beliefs is a time that brings a special, magical aura with it, is also a time of fortune-telling. One tradition has young people gathering bouquets of either seven or nine different flowers and placing them under their pillow, to bring on dreams of their future beloved. In another tradition, people believe in the curative powers of water drunk from a spring that night. Some people still believe that herbs collected on Midsummer's Eve will give them vitality and increased sexual prowess.

Lay holidays in Sweden include May 1 as Labor Day, with traditional workers' parades organized by leftist parties and trade unions, and June 6, which has been Sweden's official National Day since 2005; before then it was known as Swedish Flag Day.
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