'Tradition, culture, and religion are not a Swedish Bermuda triangle'
Published: 16 Jan 2012 10:20 GMT+01:00
Updated: 16 Jan 2012 10:20 GMT+01:00
Following the unofficial closure of the Christmas holiday season in Sweden, contributor Ruben Brunsveld reflects on the transformation of religious traditions into cultural ones.
While it may be too late to say god fortsättning to all readers of The Local, I'll allow myself the opportunity to do so anyway.
From what I've been told of course, the post-Christmas greeting can only be said until the 13th of January.
Which is also the last date for the Christmas tree to leave the house, the Advent “stair candles” to be taken away, and the star to be removed from its prominent place in front of the main window.
These are just a few of the many traditions that enrich Sweden’s cultural landscape.
Coming from a country (the Netherlands) that has lost most of its traditions, I have a lot of sympathy for all the unwritten cultural norms that govern Sweden, even if they might make the integration process a bit more complicated.
Just when you know the words to the famous drinking song Helan går, they change the order of the verses or it is a different song that needs to be sung for a different occasion.
Nonetheless, it is nice to see that so many people uphold and respect longstanding traditions.
But do they know where these traditions come from?
My suggestion to put out the “stair” candles a bit earlier this past year was met with harsh criticism because it was not yet Advent Sunday.
And behold on Advent Sunday, the candles appeared in windows across Stockholm as if the conductor of a symphonic orchestra had ordered them with a stroke of his baton.
But once I started asking my Swedish friends what Advent stood for almost all of them where at a loss for words.
More then any country I have lived in before, Sweden seems to be governed by a magic triangle of traditions, culture, and religion.
Although the balance shifts, the content remains the same based on tradition.
The religious symbols, services and icons are upheld but they are largely stripped of their religious meaning to be recast in a cultural model.
Traditions stay, but religion becomes culture.
Somehow they seem to blend as easy as gin and tonic on a Saturday night at Stureplan; it becomes a "religion-light" cocktail.
The Christmas choir in Katarina Church was introduced by a reverend but it was not a real service, nor did he give his blessing at the end.
The story of the birth of Jesus was told, but without due explanation or a sermon that would put it into the context of the 21st century.
It was as if it was an ancient relic to be admired, rather than a story that could have value for today’s society.
But maybe it is not "religion-light" after all.
Maybe it becomes the exact opposite: culture “extra strong”.
Because, as confusing as it might be for the outsider, it is exactly this mix of traditions often based in religion but recast into culture that seems to be such a strong part of Swedish identity and a building block for a cohesive society.
Tradition, culture, and religion do not create a Swedish “Bermuda triangle”.
On the contrary.
However you value them, one thing is sure: traditions are very much alive in Sweden.
So although I cannot stand another piece of Julskinka I am already looking forward to Easter!
Ruben Brunsveld is the Director of the Stockholm Institute for Public Speaking (StIPS), which offers training in Intercultural Communication, Public Speaking & Negotiation Techniques