April in Sweden: twigs, jigs and pagan rites
The Local · 13 Apr 2010, 13:58
Published: 13 Apr 2010 13:58 GMT+02:00
- March in Sweden: Slush, bears and skiing royals (17 Mar 10)
- February in Sweden: No sex please, we're cold (04 Feb 10)
- January in Sweden: Week one, thirteenth day, thinking time (05 Jan 10)
Outdoor markets fill with feather dusters … wait, those are dyed feathers wired to bunches of birch twigs. You put the twigs in water to light up your home as you watch tiny green leaves emerge to hasten spring. In small towns and suburbs, little girls dress as freckle-faced witches “just in from Mount Blue”. Often with younger brothers in tow, they knock on doors to shake down their neighbours for candy Easter eggs.
Ice still covers northern lakes, and jigging (fishing through a hole in the ice) can be a pleasure if you’re lucky enough to catch a bit of warming sun. But it can be dangerous recreation; taking a chance on the thickness of April ice has led to many an abrupt dip. Those who stay dry might bring home a perch or, in the north, a char.
April 30th is the last day motorists can drive with studded tyres, barring menacing snowstorms. Studs rip up asphalt, spraying dangerous particles into the air. Winter tyres, studded or just deep-treaded, are obligatory from December 1st to March 31st. Everyone taking a driving licence has to learn to handle a car on ice. Scheduling your test for summer months doesn’t buy any reprieve; the exam can be done on oil slicks. By default, headlights are on when you start your vehicle because there’s no way to legislate for daylight visibility — shifting weather can turn bright sunshine to murkiness in minutes. It’s a big gain in safety at zero cost or inconvenience.
Road deaths hover around 400 a year. Postal vehicles drive on the right like everyone else but with the steering wheel on the kerb side so the driver can service mailboxes without having to get out. More than every second person eligible for a driving licence has a car and almost every fourth car on the road is a Volvo.
April could not end more dramatically: bonfires rage across the country in aggressive farewell to winter cold. Walpurgis Night, the 30th of April, is a breathtakingly pagan rite, with choruses gathering round pyres to dispel the cruel winter and conjure up a good harvest year. Romance in the air and empty bottles in the gutter.
Birds are back. White wagtails can be seen in car-parks foraging for insects. Early arrivals include swans, larks, plovers and doves. Tropical birds wait as long as they can — the willow warbler, for example. Among the last to show up will be the honey buzzard, following the coastline to navigate almost up to the far north.
The Year in Sweden by Kim Loughran is on sale now at the AdLibris online bookstore.