Christmas anti-booze ad stirs tension in Sweden

Christmas anti-booze ad stirs tension in Sweden
Swedish snaps being drunk at Christmas. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT
Should parents stay away from booze during the festive season? A Christmas anti-alcohol campaign has gained record support in Sweden, with one mum saying she received online abuse after criticizing it.

Christmas in Sweden often means a lot of alcohol. Christmas beer, glögg (mulled wine) and snaps are for many essential parts of the celebration and the classic julbord. But not everyone is as fond of it.

Now in its ninth year, Sweden-based international temperance movement IOGT-NTO's campaign 'Vit jul' ('White christmas') urges parents to stay away from alcohol over the holidays, instead asking them to sign a pledge where they promise not to drink on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. 

With only one day to Christmas Eve, a record 24,000 people have signed it, up from 16,000 last year.

“We know that children feel unsafe when parents and other grown-ups change their behaviour and temper because of alcohol. It doesn't have to be about parents getting angry or upset, it's the change itself that is very disturbing for children. This is something that we are working against”, Johnny Mostacero, president of IOGT-NTO, tells The Local.

Johnny Mostacero, president of the Swedish temperance movement IOGT-NTO. Photo: Private

In a study carried out by YouGov at the request of IOGT-NTO, 54 percent of Swedish children aged between six and 12 said they think adults change when they consume alcohol. 21 percent said that they thought Christmas gets more boring when adults drink.

“Christmas is children’s holiday and that's why it's best celebrated without alcohol. This campaign is also a way to create solidarity with others that drink alcohol and cannot control it,” Johnny Mostacero explains.

But not all are convinced – with critics saying you have to tread very carefully if you want to discuss the issue. One mum revealed that she has received online abuse after criticizing the campaign.

Ellen Haglund, a 31-year-old mother of three, wrote an opinion piece for Sweden's biggest tabloid Aftonbladet, which got over 14,000 shares on Facebook. In her article, she argued that the White Chrismas-campaign was useless and counter-productive.

She pointed out that children do not automatically feel bad because parents drink moderately and that stress and tiredness affect parents far more than alcohol. Her comments immediately stirred debate.

“It’s been crazy. I’ve had people sending me messages telling me that they feel sorry for my children, which is really funny since I don’t even like Christmas beverages”, Haglund tells The Local.

Ellen Haglund argued in Aftonbladet that the IOGT-NTO-campaign is useless. Photo: Private

Haglund argues the campaign is moralizing and said it blames parents, rather than helps children in need of support.

“The ones who have real problems with alcohol won’t stop drinking because their neighbours do it. If IOGT-NTO really cares about all children that live with alcohol abuse in their family, they could have focused on this group rather than saying that all parents that drink alcohol don’t want the best for their children,” she says, adding that she’s not against the campaign's ultimate aim, but the way it is presented.

Johnny Mostacero disagrees.

“This is not about blaming but focusing on a very important question that is discussed way too little. The more the question is discussed, the more people you reach.”

He rejects Haglund’s argument that children don’t feel bad if their parents drink moderately.

“Even drinking smaller amounts of alcohol changes behaviours. Children have an ability to feel very clearly when something is not what it should be like.”

And with famous faces such as Minister of Public Health Gabriel Wikström promoting the campaign, IOGT-NTO hopes the number of people supporting its message will keep rising.

IOGT-NTO also made a campaign video named “Behind the selfie”, with the message that “no child should have to fake their Christmas memories”.
But they may be up against a challenge. A recent study suggested that Swedish attitudes towards alcohol have become increasingly permissive. However, a December survey showed that Swedish teens' drinking habits are at a forty-year low.
In the end, if there is one question Haglund and Mostacero can agree on, it is that the concept of alcohol at Christmas is likely to see plenty of heated debate in the future, too.

“I think that it's because Christmas is a holiday that is associated with alcohol and traditions, traditions that are hard to break. In Sweden the alcohol norm is very strong compared to many other countries,” says Mostacero.

“We are trying to make clear that alcohol doesn’t have to be present. There is an alternative”, he concludes.

Article by August Håkansson