• Sweden edition
January in Sweden: Week one, thirteenth day, thinking time

January in Sweden: Week one, thirteenth day, thinking time

Published: 05 Jan 2010 14:45 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Jan 2010 14:45 GMT+01:00

Welcome to Week 1. Every week in the Swedish calendar has a number. This combines efficiency and inefficiency: instead of scheduling a meeting for a day of the week that begins with the 5th, you suggest Week 32. Easy to find in a diary, impossible to remember without one. Only Week 1 and Week 52 are easy to keep track of.

Wherever you are, it’s cold. The trees are bare, and you can now see from one side of a city park to the other. Even in the extreme south, the mean temperature is zero Celsius, although the country’s western face to the North Atlantic and the Gulf Stream provides a relatively mild winter climate considering Stockholm’s shared latitude with, for example, Anchorage, Alaska.

The last of the Christmas holidays is the thirteenth day after Christmas, celebrating the visit of the Three Magi to the infant Jesus. The following Monday, schoolchildren slip back to their desks after the holidays — some after taking unapproved time on distant charter islands. July has always been the major holiday period because of the weather; now there’s competition from December-January — also because of the weather. Charter flights to Spain started in 1955, flashbulbs popping for the first departures.

These days, Thailand is the most popular destination. Nine million people generate ten million charter trips annually. One poll said that 60 percent would prefer more vacation time to a bigger paycheck. Sweden’s travel operators are efficient. When the 2004 tsunami hit southeast Asia, 4,500 Swedes were in Thailand. The effective help provided by Sweden’s biggest Thailand operator, Fritidsresor, has since been included in Harvard University’s leadership training curriculum.

This is the poorest sales month for Systembolaget, the state alcohol retail monopoly. By their philosophy, poorest is also best. The monopoly grew from an 18th-century decree banning the use of grain for private distilling — poor harvests had led to a scarcity of bread, a major food. The monopoly is cursed, ridiculed — and beneficial. Juggling with taxes and tariffs while fighting off EU trade infringement charges has produced results. Swedish alcohol consumption, once among Europe’s highest, dropped to among the lowest after the monopoly became law. Alcoholism is seen as either an illness or a rebellion against conformity.

The state has also produced booze. Before it was sold to a French company in 2008, Absolut vodka was earning zillions for the same state that took every opportunity to rap its population on the knuckles for its drinking habits. But the message about the dangers of drink was a mixed one, and the state no longer manufactures demon rum while tut-tutting its users. Systembolaget is an efficient monopoly: the selection of beers, wines and spirits is broad, sophisticated and available anywhere. If you live in the countryside far from a System outlet, they’ll send your order by post to the nearest food store.

Coffee al fresco in January? Swedes drink more java per capita than anyone in the world after the Finns. And in the depth of winter — at least in the southern third of the country — mocca addicts who are also smokers take their espressi outdoors under radiator heaters.

Culture blossoms in deepest winter. Myriad art courses involving eco-beads from ancient, musical cultures. And people buying theatre seats and popcorn. The Swedish word for cinema is bio, derived from the Biograph, an early German projector. The Guldbagge Awards for film (the word translates to Gold Bug, but the actual prize is a 1.2-kilo copper beetle) are awarded with fanfare in January. Swedes are avid moviegoers — apparently everyone goes one and a half times a year. Some swear that watching subtitled movies from childhood helps foreign language skills, a possible explanation for the Swedes’ excellent English compared to most people from Germany, France or Spain, where markets are big enough to support dubbing. Sweden and Denmark top EU rankings for state support of culture and numbers of citizens putting rear ends on seats.

At the end of the month, the architectural gem that is Stockholm’s Liljevalchs museum gallery opens its salon for amateur artists. The salon is open to all comers, but almost a century ago it was the major entry point to the art establishment. Easily the most successful Swedish artist is Carl Larsson (1853 – 1919). He has visibly impacted Swedish taste and might be considered the aesthetic root of Ikea. He painted countless interiors with loving precision, a diary of life in a perfect home. His wife Karin, a designer and artist, once commissioned a rocking chair from a local carpenter who delivered the finished product in the gloom of night because its plain lines embarrassed him.

They say it used to rain dead Christmas trees on Knut’s name day, twenty days after Christmas when children took a last whirl around the tree before packing down the ornaments. By tradition, the trees would be jettisoned on the nearest pavement. These days, the tarry wood is collected to fire furnaces for district heating.

Fewer dinner invitations this month. Christmas budgets are overdrawn. But after the mad partying of December, Swedes are pining for that insulating darkness again. Thinking time.

The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

21:59 January 6, 2010 by calebian22
Great article! Thanks.
00:36 January 13, 2010 by lingonberrie
A mind relaxer.

Yes, the so-called gloom from the dark is often the best refuge for thinking--and for escaping

the mindless chatter, complaints and the omnipresent opinions from people with minds like onions.

This article is simply a good way to relax.
Today's headlines
Swedes insist EU prioritize environment

Swedes insist EU prioritize environment

An EU public opinion poll released on Friday revealed that Sweden is the only nation which thinks the environment should be a top priority for the union. READ  

Police turn blind eye to Swedish 'slave trade'
File photo: TT

Police turn blind eye to Swedish 'slave trade'

Police in Gothenburg have confirmed that sex trafficking in the city has developed into a full-blown slave trade - but that they lack the resources to do anything about it. READ  

Pirate Bay inmate claims religious persecution
Photo: TT/The Missionary Church of Kopimism

Pirate Bay inmate claims religious persecution

Peter Sunde has complained that his religious rights have been impinged after he was refused permission to meet a representative of a church inspired by the keyboard shortcuts for cut and paste. READ  

Stockholm 'bomb man' jailed and deported
Police at the scene of the threat in June. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Stockholm 'bomb man' jailed and deported

The 43-year-old man who threatened Stockholm's Gamla Stan with a bomb in June was sentenced on Friday to two years in jail, followed by deportation. READ  

Swedish police: 'We're sweaty all the time'
Swedish cops are unhappy with the heat. Photo: Håkan Dahlström/Flickr

Swedish police: 'We're sweaty all the time'

Swedish weather agencies say the summer's warmest day is yet to come, but police in the north have decided that they can't take the heat - and filed a report about the own stifling police station. READ  

SAS resumes flights from Stockholm to Tel Aviv
File photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

SAS resumes flights from Stockholm to Tel Aviv

SAS Scandinavian Airlines has resumed flights from Stockholm to Tel Aviv after the airline completed a 'thorough security analysis' of the situation in Israel. READ  

Swedish man stabs woman and kills himself
A Stockholm police car. File photo: TT

Swedish man stabs woman and kills himself

A man and a woman, reported to be both 45-years-old, were found dead on Thursday in an apartment on Lidingö in Stockholm with police suspecting a murder and suicide. READ  

Police fear arson after Sweden mosque fire
Central Norrköping in eastern Sweden. Photo: Stefan Vilcans

Police fear arson after Sweden mosque fire

Swedish police suspect arson after buildings at a mosque in Norrköping in eastern Sweden burned down in the early hours of Friday morning. READ  

'Moving wasn't a choice, Sweden called to me'

'Moving wasn't a choice, Sweden called to me'

Caught in an identity limbo and surrounded by often apathetic "love refugees", The Local's resident Swedophile Solveig Rundquist wonders if she's the only expat who moved to Sweden for the culture alone. READ  

Swedish inmates to receive digital tablets
Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Swedish inmates to receive digital tablets

Sweden's Prison and Probation Services are beginning a project in which suspected criminals will be given surf tablets to look at evidence against them. READ  

Top ten Swedish taboos
Seven-year-old Swede cycles to Berlin
'Gaza conflict needs help, not empty rhetoric'
Swedes voted 'most beautiful' in the Nordics
Business & Money
Sweden demands EU clarity on Bitcoin tax
Blog updates

24 July

Sharing our Pride: Celebrating Love & the LGBT Community! (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"It’s mid- July in Stockholm, and with much of the city on vacation, things can seem a little quiet – the streets, the bus, and the grocery store. One thing that has not paused for a summer break, though, is preparation for Stockholm’s Pride Festival, which will take place from July 28 to August 2...." READ »


22 July

Det (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! “Det” is a personal pronoun that can be used in many ways, and it might me confusing if you always translate “det” to English “it”. In this article I will do my best to guide you to how to use “det”. Det replacing a word, a phrase or a clause Let us begin with the less confusing..." READ »

Swedish organic sales enjoy 'amazing' growth
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
What's On in Sweden
People-watching July 23
Swedish cops elect not to shoot 'angry elks'
Business & Money
New alcohol retail rules threaten micro-breweries
People-watching Båstad
Business & Money
Sweden falls to third in global innovation index
Swedish ornithologists keep webcam watch
Photo: Andreas Nordström/Image Bank Sweden
Top ten Swedish beach hot spots
Swedish Wiki vet sets new content record
Photo: Fastighetsbyrån
In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Photo: Finest.se
People-watching July 15-16
Photo: Ola Ericson/Image Bank Sweden
What's On in Sweden
Photo: Lisa Mikulski
Hope springs eternal for expat pet shop owner
Princess Estelle steals limelight at mum's birthday
Swedes risk infants' lives by covering up prams
Swede runs for office just using Bitcoin funds
People-watching July 11-13
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at: