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The lowdown on Sweden's National Day

James Savage · 5 Jun 2011, 13:00

Published: 05 Jun 2011 13:00 GMT+02:00

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This National Day sounds like a time of rejoicing, a day on which Swedes celebrate with age-old traditional rituals, probably involving raw fish and copious amounts of akvavit?

No, not really. 'Den sjätte juni' is hardly a date that trips off a Swedish tongue in the way that Quatorze Juillet does in French. Born on the Sixth of June will never have quite the same patriotic ring as Born on the Fourth of July.

In fact, Swedes didn't even get a day off for it until 2005. For most people, it's just a welcome day off in the early summer. Oh, unless it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.

Why's that?

Well, if it happens to fall on weekend, that's tough cheese for you. This is a sore point for many Swedes, who preferred the old holiday Whit Monday - the day after Pentecost. This always gave a nice long weekend. Since National Day replaced Whit Monday, the holiday gets swallowed up by the weekend roughly twice every seven years.

But what exactly is it supposed to celebrate?

A more difficult question to answer than you might expect. Unlike other countries, which have anniversaries of independence or revolutions to commemorate, Sweden has never been occupied and has never got rid of its monarchy.

If you ask a Swede, they'll probably mumble something vague about Gustav Vasa.

The day does indeed coincide with the anniversary of Gustav Vasa's election as Sweden's king in 1523, marking the end of the union with Denmark and the start of a new period of closer unity within Sweden. This day was celebrated from the 19th century as a national day of commemoration.

June 6th was also the day in 1809 on which Sweden adopted a new constitution, something it did again on the same date in 1974. From the 1890s, the Skansen open air museum in Stockholm started organizing patriotic celebrations on June 6th. In 1916, the day became The Swedish Flag Day.

Who decided to make it into Sweden's National Day?

National Day was first recognized officially by the government in 1983, but it only became a public holiday in 2005, after years of debate. The official hope was that it would be a day of unity for the Swedish people. Others saw it as a sop to industry, who would now be able to squeeze more working days out of the masses in the name of patriotism.

I want to join in the celebrations - how should I do this in a typically Swedish way?

As Sweden's only really had two National Day holidays so far, there isn't much of a precedent. Dancing round Maypoles and eating raw fish is really reserved for Midsummer, later this month. Until it became a public holiday, the only visible signs of National Day were the flags flying in people's gardens and from buses and trams.

These days, the royals celebrate the day by taking a carriage procession from the Royal Palace in Stockholm to Skansen. The Swedish flag is raised and bouquets are given to the Queen and princesses.

People taking Swedish citizenship take part in ceremonies up and down the country.

Is that all?

Story continues below…

Well, unfortunately not. The other groups who like to mark National Day are right-wing and left-wing extremists. Police are expected to be out on force on the big day to keep the rival groups apart. Reports of assaults usually accompany the celebrations in Stockholm.

Don't like the sound of that - what should I do instead?

Do what an SVT survey found that 81 percent of Swedes do - nothing at all. You, like them, can use the day to assemble Ikea furniture, lounge about in the sun or catch up on much-needed sleep.

Let the celebrations begin!

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

01:26 June 6, 2011 by Syftfel
Let the celebration begin indeed. Perhaps we can keep this day Swedish, free from all the multi-cultural nonsense being force fed with media ramming mulit-culti down our throats every day. I want to able to eat pickled herring and ham without being yelled at that I'm a racist, insensitive, a nazi, or hostile to other cultures, June 6th is the Swedish National Day. This day is not somali, lebanese or iraqi. It's Swedish! Or does aftonbladet plan to deprive me of this day too?
09:08 June 6, 2011 by Infart
Of course Aftonbladet has to ruin it. Give a look in their 'ledareblogger' section to an article written by Anders Lindberg. It starts with a picture of a Swedish flag flying from a mosque. Be sure to check the comments as well so that we can all see how 'real' Swedes feel about that image and his article.

Happy National Day to everyone!
11:24 June 6, 2011 by Rey Stockholm
Happy National Day - pass the herring
11:53 June 6, 2011 by calebian22
Just a tip, my neighbor informed me that mowing my lawn on National Day is rude and disrespectful. Whoops! Sorry about that. :-(
13:09 June 6, 2011 by Swedesmith
Allah akbar, Sverige.
12:36 June 7, 2011 by Scambaiter
Syftfel...are you even Swedish in the first place?
13:39 June 7, 2011 by Rick Methven

The wonderful thing about the internet and google translate is that it gives sad little people behind their keyboards in the USA the chance to troll around trying to make readers of TL believe they are Swedes and/or in Sweden.

Generally they are so pathetic and single minded. they are spotted for a fraud within short
16:06 June 7, 2011 by prince T
I wonder at your question myself @scambata. When one attacks both swedes and invandrare at the same time, it beats my imagination.
16:24 June 7, 2011 by TheOneWhoTravels
In fact I did go to Ikea on National Day, lol. But it wasn't really by design, I just passed an Ikea on the highway and decided to pop in.
18:12 June 7, 2011 by Infart

Another great thing about the internet is that it gives an opportunity to people in some far, flung place like......say....Linköping, to comment on situations that happen in the big cities. Situations and people with which they have zero clue or experience.
06:43 June 8, 2011 by Rick Methven
What fartbreath has no knowledge of is that Linköping is the 5th largest City in Sweden with 150,000 inhabitants and 15% of the population are immigrants.

But then not knowing anything about anything has stopped this troll from spouting garbage.
09:07 June 9, 2011 by infidel2012
@ Rick M.


You just gave yourself away, how is it that You have access to other users' IP addresses unless You are in fact on The Local's payroll.

BTW - There are laws written about that sort of access, and if you have moderator access on these threads, and are posting 'undercover' with a pseudo avatar name, I would suggest you cease and desist immediately.

If on the far off chance that your an honest to goodness actual reader/poster, I will remind you that everyone making comments here has the same rights that you do as far as freedom to make opinions and comments here on The Local.

What makes your comments more important than the next poster, who do you think you are, and who/what gives you the right to have comments removed.

Oh, how I wish I met someone like this type of SOB on the street, I wouldn't hesitate to smack that smoggy litte sh*t across their face.
10:00 June 9, 2011 by helveeta
Does anyone know a good forum to discuss Sweden (those of us who really are here) in English? I mean people who really speak fluent proper English. The Local is a joke these days...
10:48 June 9, 2011 by Streja
Why would I eat ham on our National Day??
23:12 July 5, 2011 by Recife
I think I understand why National Day is so low key. If you have National day in a Socialist country you have Voila! National Socialist Day. The word Nazi is short for National Socialist. Not a very good idea because it will bring out the wrong feelings in Swedes.
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