Saturday, 30 March 2013

Swedish birthday celebrations

According to my own little statistics, looking around on everyone I know, there is a huge chunk of people who has a birthday at the end of March, and April. Actually some official statistics also point to those months with the most birthdates in Sweden.
This is not a big suprise, if we start counting 9 months back that a woman usually is pregnant. That will take us right to Midsummer, and into July, the month when the big majority of Swedes have vacation. Hmmm...
Hense, this is a good time to talk about how Swedes celebrates birthdays.

What to give to a Swede for birthday?

Flowers or chocolate works in Sweden too. A gift in this form, or at least in the form of a thing, is more appreciated than a birthday card with nice words. I find this being a big difference from culture here in North America, where I spend this year. Swedes are not so sentimental and emotional, so Hallmarks birthday cards are not really a big deal for Swedes. The purpose of giving a card is more just to show who the present is from.

Ha öppet hus vid födelsedag | To have an open house at a birthday

Att fylla jämnt = to turn "even"

This is a big deal and it means that someone turns the big "zero" (20, 30, 40, 50 ...). The older we get, the more common it is to celebrate this with an "open house". By an ad in the newspaper, or simply by mouth to mouth, we welcome everone we know and who wants to come and celebrate in our own house. The open house is usually a full day thing, from morning till late night, and each guest may stay a couple of hours. One tricky thing is that you never know how many guests you will have and when they come, so make sure to be prepared with cookies, cake and "smörgåstårta" all day long. An advice is to ask someone to help with the serving part.
If you don't want a crowd to come to your house on your big day, you can also put an ad in the newspaper saying this: "All uppvaktning undanbes." (= All petitions are declined)

Att fylla halvjämnt = to turn half even

Not only the "zeros" mean something special, but also the "5's". When turning 25, 35, 45, we can also make sure to celebrate ourselves a bit extra. Maybe not with an open house, but a big party with friends, or throwing a surprise party for the one who has the birthday is common.

Hissa flaggan

A lot of Swedes have their own flag pole, and for every official flag day in Sweden, the flag needs to be hissed. But you can also have it up during the private special Days, like the birthday, to show that this is a special occasion.

Breakfast in bed

Frukost på sängen is a very common tradition. The family members that are to celebrate the birthday "child" (this is not only for children though), sneak up, make breakfast and put it on a tray together with a candle or flower. Then head to the birthday childs bedroom and start singing: "Ja må han/hon leva...". Of course there are presents brought too, but they are not to be opened until the breakfast is eaten (or is that rule maybe just in my family?)


We sing to the birthday child several times throughout the day, depending on the situation. After every time, we say the four "hurra hurra hurra hurra". This is introduced by someone saying the phrase (and learn this, because it may be you who wants to do it one day):
Ett fyrfaldigt leve för (NAME). Hon/Han leve:
The reason we say this four times comes from the 1600's, when war ships needed to identify which country they belonged to. Sweden had the code 2 canon shots. When the King was present this was doubled, hense our 4 "hurra" today.

Important Swedish birthdays

All the "zeros"
7: You begin first grade of school.
15: You get to drive "moppe" = moped.
16: You can begin your driving practice.
18: You come of age = Du blir myndig.
20: You can buy alcohol from the liquor store "Systembolaget".
30/40: With some employments, especially within the public sector, you get an extra week of vacation (5 weeks being very short according to Swedes).
50: You get a day off from work to celebrate your big birthday.
65: (This may vary between 61 -67) You retire, if you want to.

In the video from Swedish2go you also get to know some useful words about birthdays in Sweden. Have a look at that!

One phrase I should give you here, right away though:

Grattis på födelsedagen!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Easter in Sweden | Påsk i Sverige

What is an Easter witch?

The children soon has Easter break, but long before that many of them has started to prepare their Easter letters, colourful drawings with the text GLAD PÅSK (Happy Easter), and thereafter folded them together in the special Easter letter way. The more letters prepared, the more neighbours to visit and that gives more candy!

Which day to expect a visit from an Easter witch depends on where in Sweden you are. Some has the tradition of going out as Easter witches on the Thursday, while other wait until the Saturday.

We have the custom of Easter witches because of traditions from the old folk belief, which is mixed in with the traditions from Christian traditions.

The children dress up by putting some old clothes on, often found in mom's closet, take som make up from mom and paint some rosy cheeks and freckles in the face. And one shouldn't forget to bring a basket or bag to be able to carry all the candy home. After all the preparations, the children bring their Easter letters and go from door to door, wishing everyone a happy Easter. Once back home again, they have more candy than mom and dad allow them to eat.

What do Swedes eat for Easter?

Påskafton (="Easter eve") is like any other eves in Sweden the day we celebrate the most. We often visit with our family and have an Easter buffé. The ingredient that is on everyone's Easter table is egg. Other than that, this buffé is similar to the julbord (Christmas buffé). Of course both alcohol and alcohol free drinks, such as must, are being served on the table.

What is Swedish must?

Must is a soft drink that we often have to our buffés and often as an alternative to alcohol drinks, like beer. We can buy it in any food store. At Christmas we call it julmust, and at Easter - guess what? Yes! Påskmust. The recipe is the same though.

Easter eggs

The Swedes don't have a strong tradition of Easter egg hunt, or Easter Bunny. Instead we buy cardboard eggs, påskägg, and give those to the children, filled with candy or maybe a Little toy. The bigger egg the better!

Here are some Words and phrases for you to learn to survive the Easter:

  • Glad påsk = Happy Easter
  • Påskkärrningar = Easter witches
  • Skärtorsdag = Thursday in Easter
  • Långfredag = Good Friday
  • Påskafton = Saturday in Easter
  • Påskdagen = Easter day
  • Annandag påsk = "Boxing day" Easter
  • Klä ut sig = Dress up (Klä ut is a reflective verb that you can learn more about from our Swedish grammar site)
  • Smörgåsbord = you know this, this is one of few Words that has actually been exported from the Swedish language, and we are pround of it!
  • Sill = pickled herring
  • Pynta = Decorate with traditional arnaments
  • Påskris = Easter twigs (we have it both inside and outside)
  • Blåkulla = The place we say the witches fly to
  • Lov = School break