New Year’s Eve

Swedes like to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends. And in spite of freezing temperatures, they often toast the new year outdoors, the sky lit up by fireworks.

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Photo: Stefan Isaksson/Folio

New Year is spent with friends

Midnight, New Year’s Eve. It is quite an endearing sight: people standing outside, shivering, teeth clattering, up to their knees in heavy snow – just to wish each other a happy new year, accompanied by the bang and sparkle of fireworks. 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: 10 December 2014

Po Tidholm & Agneta Lilja

Po Tidholm is a freelance journalist and a critic based in the province of Hälsingland. In the collection 'Celebrating the Swedish Way', he has written the main sections about how we celebrate in Sweden today. ||| Agneta Lilja is a lecturer in ethnology at Södertörn University College, Stockholm. She also writes reviews and appears on radio and tv. In the collection 'Celebrating the Swedish Way', Lilja has written the sections about the history of Swedish traditions and festivities.