If November is the month when the fewest children are born, that would make February the least erotic month. Urban legend has it that most Swedish babies are born nine months to the day after the feelgood festival of Midsummer Eve, when cavorting is on everyone’s mind. But February can be cold and gloomy and if sex represents comfort as well as fun, surely now would be a perfect time?
How sex-fixated are Swedes? Most of them will tell you: lagom. It means ‘sufficiently’ and the word carries a connotation of good judgment. The New York Times has said that the roots of sexual liberation in Scandinavia are the state-sponsored social movements for women’s rights, sex education and health care, plus freedom of expression. Various forms of feminism have been an ingrained part of Swedish culture since Viking times. The modern incarnation is less concerned with sexuality than boosting healthy families.
For those too young to agonise over sex, February brings sports week, a break from school and a last chance to go skiing. The vacation period is staggered so the popular ski resorts are not gridlocked. At this stage of the winter, daylight is coming back and temperatures are milder than just a month ago, although there’s still plenty of snow.
Awaiting the short growing season, shoppers are still dependent on produce from hothouses in Holland and Spain or freeze-shipped from Thailand, Kenya or Brazil. But home-grown veggies are never forgotten and a seasonal favourite is mashed turnips and boiled pork sausage with lashings of mustard. This is a foodie nation, with more cookbooks published per capita than in any other country.
It’s cold enough now to quieten even the Lebanese and Syrian sellers at outdoor market stalls. In other weather, Stockholm’s fruit and vegetable markets are cacophonous with shouted bargains and claims of the sweetest oranges. The spikes for Swedish immigration in the last half-century began with an influx of Hungarians following the 1956 uprising, then the exodus of Jews from Poland in 1968, the flight of opposition sympathisers from Chile after Pinochet took power in 1973, the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, the confusion and carnage in the Horn of Africa in the 1990s and the invasion of Iraq from 2003. Just under half of all asylum requests are granted. More than 13 percent of the country’s inhabitants were born abroad and the influx is making the country more youthful demographically.
Enter the snowdrop (Galántus nivális). What a guy! A graceful white head drooping pensively on a slender neck, battling up through the snow. The six-petalled snowdrop ignores cold, obeying only the primeval call of light.
The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.