October in Sweden: forest royalty, bandy, prizes from the Academy

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October in Sweden: forest royalty, bandy, prizes from the Academy

The Year in Sweden - October: Journalist Kim Loughran sketches a month by month account of the country he has called home ever since his accidental migration in 1966.


Time to hide for the king of the forest, the moose (Alces alces). The moose hunt may technically have started on the first of September in the north, but October is when most of the rest of the country loads up. (The season is staggered to allow calves to grow.) Yellowing leaves still provide cover for the antlered majesty but he’ll need it every day — from an hour before sunrise until sundown — until the end of February. Hunters wear garish orange hatbands to alert other hunters and fool their colour-blind prey. A sprig of spruce in the hatband signals a bagged moose. Hunting season coincides with mating season. For an attractive scent, bulls kick up a pile of moss and twigs, urinate on it, then roll in it. What moose cow could resist?

When clear-cutting was the forestry industrial standard in the 1970s and ‘80s, weeds flourished in the open spaces: breakfast, lunch and dinner for a moose population that fattened and multiplied. Moose sightings were common. With clear-cutting now less common, the population has declined. About 100,000 moose bite the forest moss every year to wind up in savoury stews.

Eighteenth-century naturalist Carl Linnaeus invented the system of classifying plants and animals and named the moose (aka the elk). Alces alces. North America has four species and Asia two.

Schools break for a week at the end October to give children relaxation and, ideally, exercise. Only in the north will there be enough snow for snowball fights. But winter sports are starting up. The most traditional team sport is bandy, although it attracts barely a tenth of the crowds that see ice hockey. A Scottish game called shinny evolved into ice-hockey and bandy, which is played on ice with curved sticks and a small orange ball that TV doesn’t scan well. Pink and fluorescent balls have been trialled but there’s something sweet about the small orange. Newcomers to Sweden, standing outdoors in below-zero temperatures, get an acoustic surprise when a goal is scored: the smattering sound of gloved hands applauding.

Late October is when the Nobel Prizes are made public. The prize with greatest celebrity factor is the peace award. Because Sweden and Norway were in a union when Alfred Nobel wrote his will in 1895, he stipulated that the ‘brother nation’ have that honour. Sweden got all the others: Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Literature, which attracts the most public speculation. As soon as the committee at the Swedish Academy decides whose canon best represents a compromise between modern excellence and what Alfred Nobel actually wanted — idealistic writing — a press conference is called. Then, at precisely one p.m., an ornate timepiece chimes the hour and the Academy’s permanent secretary emerges to announce the world’s most prestigious prize for writing. The Swedish Academy, its historic sapling planted by the culture-loving despot, Gustav III (1771-1792), is a factory of thought and dedication, appreciated as a world treasury of writing.

Where other countries excel in wrapped candy bars, Swedish convenience stores proffer rainbow rows of cheap candies. Swedes prefer their sugar in caramels and toffees, nougats, jellies, fondants, marshmallows, marzipans, truffles, cotton candies and licorices, chewing gums in shapes of stars, bears, discs, blobs and … thingies. Desserts are less fashionable than in other countries. But a cake in a café (konditori) is a treat few can resist. October 4 is Cinnamon Roll Day. Consumption of sugar has been constant or declining. Don’t forget though, brain cells depend on a supply of glucose from the blood.

October used to be the month for moving house. Until its abolition in 1945, a system of indentured rural labour maintained a lowest class in Sweden. Hired on annual contracts and paid primarily in kind, the workers were permitted to move only in October. And move they did, from unkind bosses to potentially kinder ones. Now, it’s mostly younger people who move about. After they’ve passed 30, most people move only within their town or region. A majority now lives in urban areas, and generally in apartments. Municipal non-profit housing has been shrinking — not in size of apartments, which are larger than in most European countries — but in number. Governments have preferred to get people off their support lists and into home ownership. Slums are non-existent although many areas are ethnically or economically unbalanced and some are drab. Influential local government bodies such as Stockholm’s ‘Beauty Council’ have kept cities largely homogeneous if not striking.

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


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