Frogs, ducks and crayfish: A crash course in weird Swedish traditions

If you're ever fortunate enough to spend a full year in Sweden, you'd better be prepared for a whole universe of unusual traditions. Podcaster Oliver Gee of The Earful Sweden shares what he considers to be the five most unusual traditions in a Swedish year.

Frogs, ducks and crayfish: A crash course in weird Swedish traditions
There is, of course, Creamy Bun Feast, but what other weird traditions exist in Sweden? Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/TT

The first time I saw a Swedish “Small Frogs Ceremony” ten years ago, I thought I was being pranked. 

Do the dance, do the dance, the Swedes urged. Be like a frog! No ears, no tails! 

What was going on? Feeling like a fool, I joined in, waiting for everyone to start laughing at me. But no one laughed. They just made the sound of a small frog, which was apparently Kouackackack, on repeat.

Fast forward a decade and I'm married to a Swede, I know all the words to the frog song, but I still raise an eyebrow at many Swedish traditions. 

Here are my favourite five traditions, all of which are commonly practised among typical Swedes.

The Creamy Bun Feast

As The Local Sweden says, semmeldagen is just another manic bun day. And manic is correct, people go nuts for this sweet and fatty treat. The bun is enormous, about the size of a Big Mac, and impossible to eat without covering your face with whipped cream or powdered sugar. Legend has it that in 1771 King Adolf Fredrik died after eating 14 servings of them for dessert.

The Freckled Easter Witches

Most Swedes don't realise how unusual this is, but at Easter they dress their children up as broomstick-riding witches with huge freckles on their faces. Much like at Halloween, these witches collect candy from their neighbours, who've duly put bright feathers on their trees to mark the occasion. 

The Small Frog Dance

This is my favourite tradition. On Midsummer's Eve, Swedes erect a massive flowery maypole (“erect” is the right choice of words – it's a fertility symbol complete with testicles).

Then, they dance around the pole while imitating small frogs, singing a song called Små Grodorna.

The rough lyrics: Small frogs, small frogs, are strange to look at, nary an ear or a tail dost they have, Kouackackack, Kouackackack, Kouackackack (this is the sound a small frog makes, obviously).

There are more wild traditions on this day, like girls collecting seven different flowers and jumping over seven fences in order to dream of their one true love… but nothing beats the frogs for an eyebrow-raising tradition.

The Crayfish Ceremony

If you thought the frogs were weird, wait till you see a crayfish party.

At a “kräftskiva”, Swedes sit around a table full of boiled crayfish, often while wearing crayfish paraphernalia like bibs and hats. Sometimes you'll get flags with happy moons and crayfish to complete the picture.

Then, everyone slurps down at least 15 crayfish as noisily as possible, interspersed with drinking strong Schnapps and singing what can only be described as a cross between drinking songs and sea shanties. I sing the easiest to learn in the podcast episode below (subscribe!) and a loose translation of the text would be: The whole thing goes, sing yabba dabba do ding dong ding dong (repeated three times with a full shot near the end).

Swedish crayfish parties are usually held in August. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT

The Donald Duck Hour

Christmas brings more traditions than all, including my personal favourite: The Donald Duck Hour. Yes, the entire nation sits down at 3pm to watch Disney snippets from the last 70 years.

Favourites include The Bear Necessities, the song from the Jungle Book, but also less universally popular clips like Ferdinand the Bull. The show often features a much anticipated new Disney addition, which in recent years has included Moana, Frozen, and Zootopia.

Oliver Gee runs the new podcast The Earful Sweden. The latest episode features a much deeper dive into these traditions with Oliver's wife, a Swede, defending them all. You can listen to the episode below and follow The Earful Sweden on Instagram here.

Member comments

  1. Midsommer ….!!! Been there, done the ‘silly dancing’ around the maypole, erect and testicles attached! I can dance quite normally and look like a frog with gastric problems anytime! I have even sung the songs (badly, of course)- and enjoyed every minute of it. I am in the UK at the moment but returning to Sweden later in the year – hopefully in time for Midsommer.

    I love the food, the crayfish, the semlor buns (I can get them from the Scandinavian Kitchen when I visit London) and the wonderful Swedish people. I live in the country but there is no better city in the world than Stockholm

    See you soon – I hope. Until then, stay safe and well.

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EXPLAINED: Sweden’s rising prices and what’s being done to stop them

Sweden is experiencing the highest inflation in 30 years. What's behind the price rises and what can the government do about it?

EXPLAINED: Sweden's rising prices and what's being done to stop them

What are the factors behind the increase in prices in Sweden? 

The biggest single factor has been the rise in oil and gas prices, which has pushed up transport and manufacturing costs across the world, pushing up prices more or less across the board. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also disrupted the production and transportation of goods, leading to shortages as the lifting of restrictions releases pent-up demand. 

Finally, most countries have been running expansive fiscal and monetary policies. The US, for instance, has so far sent out $1,400 cheques to 127 million households. 

SEB’s senior economist, Robert Bergqvist, told The Local that Sweden if anything faced slightly lower inflationary pressure than other countries. 

“One reason why Sweden has lower inflation is that we still have slower wage growth, because we have wage agreements that last for three to four years,” he said. 


What has the government done to help people in Sweden? 

Quite a lot. 

In January it offered an electricity rebate of up to 2,000 kronor per month to all those hit by high electricity prices.

On March 14th, it launched a package of subsidies for car-owners. 

This included a pay-out of between 1,000 to 1,500 kronor to every car-owner in the country, which has cost the government 13.9bn kronor. 

It also included a temporary reduction in tax on petrol and diesel to the lowest level allowed by the European Union. The government said that this would reduce the price by 1.3 kronor per litre. This will reduce the government’s tax intake by 3.8 billion kronor. 

Finally, it has also a temporary increase in housing benefit for families with children, which could provide up to 1,325 kronor in extra benefits a month between July and December this year. 

Are the other political parties satisfied? 

Of course they’re not. This is an election year.

The Moderate Party are pushing for a tax cut that will reduce the price at the pump by five kronor a litre for diesel, and “several kronor” for petrol.

The Sweden Democrats party has proposed a package it claims will reduce the price of diesel by 9.45 kronor and petrol by 6.50 kronor, at a cost of 34bn kronor. 

The only party that is against reducing fuel tax is the Green Party, which instead wants to pass 20bn kronor to households living in the countryside to help them deal with the additional costs. Subsidising fuel, the party argued, meant “filling Putin’s warchest”. 

What about economists? 

Robert Bergqvist said that Sweden’s relatively strong government finances meant that it could easily afford to be this generous to lessen the pain for citizens. 

“It’s nothing that will jeopardise the very strong government finances that we have,” he said. “Sweden can afford a more expansionary fiscal policy.” 

The only risk, he argued was that having what he called a “slightly more expansionary fiscal policy” could end up pushing prices up even higher. “It could be a bit inflationary,” he said. 

What can Sweden’s central bank do? 

Controlling inflation is one of the key purposes of a central bank, and Sweden’s Riksbank is instructed to aim for inflation of two percent. 

The Riksbank’s current position is that there will be no increase in interest rates until the second half of 2024. But the prices rises of the last six months will almost certainly force it to act sooner. 

In an interview with Sweden’s state broadcaster SR last week, the bank’s governor, Stefan Ingves, said that the bank would need to change its position. Most economists in Sweden now expect a rate rise in the second half of this year, or at the start of next year. 

Ingves’s deputy, Anna Breman, said in a speech on Wednesday that it, now “now looks like it would be reasonable to bring forward a rise in interest rates”. 

Will Sweden manage to get prices under control? 

Bergqvist said he believed that the Riksbank had a relatively short window in which to act if it was to avoid the risk that high inflation expectations become firmly established among companies and wage earners. 

“We have new wage negotiations which will start at the end of this year, and you will have new wage deals in the first quarter of next year,” he said. 

If the unions expect higher inflation in the coming years, they are likely to push for more generous wage hikes, which could in turn lead to rising costs for companies, and so increase inflation still further. 

“When I talk to companies and households, everyone says that we have an inflation problem, that prices are going up, and I think we haven’t seen the worst yet,” he said. “I think inflation will continue to rise. Companies say costs are rising and that it’s also quite easy to raise prices right now.” 

If the Riksbank does not take action soon, he argued, then high inflation expectations will become more too established to reduce much higher interest rates, which could cause a recession.  

“And that will make it much more difficult for the Riksbank to bring inflation down to two percent,” he said.