#BecomingSwedish: ‘How you celebrate is more important than why you celebrate’

#BecomingSwedish: 'How you celebrate is more important than why you celebrate'
Celebrating Swedishly. Photo: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se
The Christmas holidays provided plenty of opportunity to better understand what it means to be Swedish, writes Tomas Spragg Nilsson.

A month has passed since I started working my way through a list of tasks that were designed to culturally qualify me to become Swedish. The idea behind my #BecomingSwedish 'hinklista' (a bad direct translation of 'bucket list') is to visit famous Swedish places, eat Swedish food – and generally engross myself in a variety of experiences.

All these adventures need to take place before I put in my application for Swedish citizenship in autumn 2019. I also plan to complete every task on the list with a real life Swede – helping me tackle the difficult task of making friends with Swedes.

I dwelled on this last point in my first article about the project. I realized that for this to be a meaningful discovery and integration experience, it should be less about 'learning about Sweden', and more about 'learning from Swedes about what it means for them to be Swedish'. In this vein, I hoped my article would spur on helpful souls to get in touch.

I was not disappointed. Swedes from Skåne to Norrland, Darlarna to Uppsala, and even some in my own backyard, Sollentuna, got in touch. My puzzle for the upcoming weeks is to figure out how to make these adventures happen. When I started this project, I had no idea how much logistical planning (and frankly, financial cost) it would entail. But I’m not complaining. I got myself into this.

It was the many emails that filled my inbox from new Swedes or new arrivals in Sweden however, that really warmed my heart. It has been so inspiring to hear from The Local Sweden’s readers of their own integration tales. It would be fair to say that not all I have spoken with have had an easy time integrating, but the stories I’ve heard have given me new energy for the project. It’s been hard keeping up with all the emails – so I’ve set up a Facebook Page as a place to keep the conversation going.

That’s enough about the conversations I’ve been enjoying for now though. Let’s instead recap on the progress I’ve made crossing things off the list. I’m very happy to report that in the last weeks I have managed to experience six of the items on my list. The less good news is that I’ve realized that I miscounted the list in the first place, and that there are in fact 72+1 tasks on the list. Oh well – it’s still progress, I guess.

Unsurprisingly given the time of the year, I have been focusing on the Christmassy items on my list, beginning with Julmust. I’ve always been a fan of Sweden’s favourite yuletide brew – and I had the chance to interview a real enthusiast, author Anna Carlstedt. I found it particularly refreshing to learn about the Roberts family business, that has for seven generations made the original Julmust syrup that all breweries in Sweden now use. Not only does this family’s product massively outsell Coca-Cola’s sales in Sweden each Christmas – but the owners of the company have also refused to bow down to regular buyout offers. A rare ‘David and Goliath’ tale for the modern consumer market.

December also brought with it my new favourite Swedish Christmas tradition: Lucia. I’d never experienced the lady who brings light into the darkest of winter months before – so I decided to go all in and attended no less than four Lucia concerts in one day. I managed to catch up with Markus from Kammarkören Cantare after one of their fabulous performances at Skansen. What rung most true for me in our conversation is that when celebrating Lucia, as is with many Swedish traditions, the how you celebrate it, is much more important than why you celebrate.

With Lucia carols still swirling around my head, I thought I was almost done with #BecomingSwedish for December. That was until the radio station P4 Stockholm (a regional public broadcaster) got in touch with the idea that I should complete one of my tasks live on air. I hastily said yes, before realizing my radio debut would include me singing the national anthem live on air, during a peak drivetime show. A kind colleague gave me a singing crash course and I managed to stumble my way through a conversation/singalong on the radio (in Swedish). Hopefully I didn’t upset too many Swedes with my poor pronunciation of the national anthem!

My personal integration project will continue well into 2019 – so if are interested in meeting up for an adventure – please do get in touch! I’ll continue to write for The Local about the project in the new year, and do keep a look out for my regular uploads on YouTube.

Until next time, god fortsättning – and here’s to hopefully becoming Swedish this year!

As a reminder, here’s the ‘hinklista’ in full:


Falun Mine
Höga Kusten
Göta Kanal


Ice Hockey (Djurgården and AIK)
Jumping in ice hole after sauna
Cross country skiing
Dog sledding
Outdoorsy stuff in winter
Ice skating
'Sladda med 245:a'
Midnight sun
Be on a styrelse
Play with reindeers
Sing in choir


Flygande Jakob
Masses of lingon
Falukorv with pasta and ketchup
Homemade cinnamon bun

Learn to

Exhale and inhale to say yes and no
Use English words when speaking Swedish
Memorize the weeks of the year
Become emotionally detached
Not brag
Complain about weather
Not talk to strangers
Stand in line
Cancel on a friend to spend time alone
Stop being loud in public
Master lagom
Du gamla du fria
Abba lyrics


Vår tid är nu
Swedish reality TV
Moa Martinsson
Millennium Trilogy
Mannen på taket
Astrid Lindgren
Nile City
Göta Kanal
Kalle Anka
August Strindberg
Selma Lagerlöf
Ture Sventon
F**king Åmål
Torsk på Tallinn
Skrotnisse och hans vänner
Den bästa sommaren
Vilse i Pannkakan

Tomas Spragg Nilsson is a politics-obsessed communications professional and storyteller, based in Stockholm. In his spare time, he has embarked on an integration project that will have him travel the country in an attempt to understand what it means to become a Swedish citizen.

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