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New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is often ice-cold in Sweden, with temperatures below freezing point. That doesn’t stop Swedes toasting the new year outdoors, shivering, teeth clattering, up to their knees in heavy snow.

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Photo: Stefan Isaksson/Folio

New Year is spent with friends

It is quite an endearing sight, and it is also symptomatic of modern Sweden. In many respects, Swedes have begun to absorb the outdoorsy continental lifestyle, but somewhere along the way a collision always occurs. In this case, with the climate.

After celebrating Christmas with their immediate families, old or new, and with relatives and those that have married into the family, Swedes like to spend New Year’s Eve with their friends.

They don’t mind Christmas celebrations being an old-fashioned family affair, but New Year is nowadays supposed to be lavish, ostentatious, international and modern. In city market halls and delicatessens, last-minute customers fight over the last lobsters and the last box of oysters.

New Year’s resolutions

At home in the kitchen, people reduce their sauces, caramelise their orange peel and lay the table with the finest dinnerware, tablecloths and candlesticks. They dress up in newly bought clothes and pretend the icy wind howling outside the door is not there. Tights and high-heeled shoes, however, aren’t much fun in the grip of midwinter.

During dinner, you discuss both the past year and the year to come. You promise to become a much better person in future, and when the clocks strike midnight you make a New Year’s resolution − in Sweden as elsewhere.

Many promise to stop smoking, or to lose weight, or to start exercising at a gym or make more money. As a rule, these promises are kept − for a few weeks, at least.

New Year’s verse and fireworks

Like many other festive occasions in Sweden, the New Year has become increasingly dominated by the traditional offerings of the media.

Each year ends with a live broadcast from the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm, where the bells chime and a New Year’s verse (interestingly enough by the British poet Lord Alfred Tennyson) is solemnly declaimed to the nation. There’s something nice and secure about rounding off the year in front of the TV in your living room.

Many, however, prefer the cold night air. Those who are not lucky enough to live in a town flat with a view, tend to seek out public places at midnight from where they can fire off rockets and sneak a look at other people’s firework displays.

You stand there, enveloped in your heavy winter coat, gazing open-mouthed as the horizon − whether high-rise buildings in silhouette or a sparse line of pine-trees − comes alight, flashing and crackling.

Last updated: 25 March 2014

Po Tidholm & Agneta Lilja

Po Tidholm is a freelance journalist and a critic based in the province of Hälsingland. He regularly contributes to Swedish dailies Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet, the magazine Filter and Swedish Radio. His texts about society, culture and history often revolve around the Swedish countryside and the north of Sweden. Tidholm has written the main sections about how we celebrate in Sweden today. | Agneta Lilja is a lecturer in ethnology at Södertörn University College, Stockholm. Her doctoral thesis, The Notion of the Ideal Record, was a critical examination of collection strategies at an archive specialising in the documentation of customs and traditions. Her research has also included the study of songs and festive customs, and she has written a book about All Saints’ Day and Halloween. At present, she is engaged in gender research. She also writes reviews and appears on radio and tv. Agneta Lilja wrote the sections about the history of Swedish traditions and festivities.