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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: advent

Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

the word advent on a black background next to a swedish flag
Hope you're having a peaceful Advent Sunday. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Today is andra söndagen i advent – the second Sunday of Advent, which is why we’ve chosen advent as our word of the day.

Advent isn’t really a Swedish word at all. It originally comes from Latin, and means “arrival” – in this case, the arrival or birth of Jesus.

Before the reformation in Sweden in the 1500s, Advent was a time of fasting, a way to physically mark the joy of Jesus’ birth. During this fast, people refrained from eating certain foods, especially meat.

After the reformation, Advent stayed, but the fast disappeared.

One remnant of the Advent fast is lutfisk – a traditional Christmas dish made by treating dried whitefish in lye for a period of days, which gives it a strange jelly-like texture. Lutfisk – as a fish dish and not a meat dish – was allowed during the Advent fast, which is one of the reasons it became popular.

For those unaware what lye is, the Oxford English dictionary defines the substance as “a strongly alkaline solution, especially of potassium hydroxide, used for washing or cleansing”.

Yes, that’s right, some Swedes love nothing more at Christmas than to tuck into fish stewed in stuff that is also used in, among other things, soap making, oven cleaners and even getting rid of human bodies. Delicious.

Preserved lutfisk is not edible, and the process of preparing it for human consumption can take as long as two weeks, with alternating soaks in water and lye. Traditionally, this process was started on December 9th or Annadagen, which may be named after the Virgin Mary’s mother, Anna.

Nowadays, you’re unlikely to find Swedes preparing their lutfisk during Advent. For the majority, Advent involves the lighting of adventsljus (Advent candles) – a candlestick of four candles, where a different candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas. This tradition comes from Germany, where originally seven candles were lit on each Sunday in Advent, one for each weekday in the previous week. These candles were then placed in a small indoor tree which stood on a table, meaning that by the last Sunday in Advent the tree was full of 28 lit candles.

This tradition has evolved, and both Swedes and Germans are now much more likely to have a four-candle Advent candlestick rather than an Advent tree. Although Swedes prefer Advent candlesticks which have four candles in a straight line, Germans are more likely to have circular Advent candlesticks. In both countries, a popular Advent activity is decorating the Advent candlestick with moss, bark, pine branches and pinecones, which are then removed at the end of the season and replaced the following year.

You may also have noticed adventsstjärnor (Advent stars) hanging in the windows of Swedish houses and apartments in the month of December – star-shaped lights symbolising the star of Bethlehem which led the three wise men to baby Jesus. And those triangle-shaped candlesticks, now usually electric, which everyone seems to have on their windowsills? They’re also referred to as adventsljus (Advent lights) or adventsljusstakar (Advent candlesticks), featuring seven lights rather than four.

The seven-candle Advent candlestick is a reference to the seven-armed Menorah in the Bible. In Christianity it can symbolise a number of things: Jesus’ Jewish faith, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or other things which come in sevens – such as the seven days it took for God to create the world in the book of Genesis or the seven major churches in early Christianity, mentioned in the Book of Revelations.

No matter your religion, I’m sure we can all agree that Swedish adventsljus provide a welcome light in the darkness at this time of year. Have a great andra söndagen i advent, from The Local.

Example sentences:

Jag älskar adventssöndagar, det är så mysigt att pyssla med familjen inför jul.

I love Advent Sundays, it’s so nice doing arts and crafts with the family before Christmas.

Min mamma har redan julpyntat – får man det före första advent, egentligen?

My mum has already put up her Christmas decorations – is that even allowed before the first Sunday in Advent?

Need a good Christmas gift idea?

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it – or join The Local as a member and get your copy for free.

It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon USAmazon UKBokus or Adlibris.

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SWEDISH WORD OF THE DAY

Swedish word of the day: tacofredag

Today’s word is a modern Swedish national tradition.

Swedish word of the day: tacofredag

Tacofredag simply means ‘Taco Friday’.

If you have been living in Sweden for a while you might be familiar with the concept of att mysa, ‘to get cozy’. If you are not, the number one mys-day is Friday, fredagsmys, or “Cozy Friday”, which we have previously covered. Fredagsmys has become somewhat of a modern national tradition, where the idea is to stay at home, watch a movie, have a chill and nice time together while eating fast food.

And the fast food of choice for fredagsmys is tacos, Tex-Mex style tacos, but with a Swedish twist. You might have seen the large taco section in your local supermarket and wondered. This is why it is so large.

Here’s the story behind it. Around 1990 Sweden was reemerging out of a financial crisis. Swedes were increasingly willing to spend again, and television advertising, which was illegal on cable based broadcast, was becoming a thing through satellite broadcasts from the UK. Somewhere around this time the idea of fredagsmys was born. To sit at home, eating easy to make food while watching television.  

Though crips company OLW was the major populariser of the phenomenon of fredagsmys through a series of popular adverts that started in 2009, the big winners of the new cultural phenomenon were the tex-mex producers Old El Paso and Santa Maria (which even changed its name from Nordfalks due to the success of its tex-mex products). 

Through in store demonstrations of how to assemble the tacos, and a series of advertising campaigns, tex-mex sales grew from 70 million to 1,2 billion SEK over 20 years from 1991-2011. In 2014 Santa Maria released a statement containing statistics from a survey which showed that 85 percent of Swedes eat Tex Mex regularly, and that 55 percent of them do it on Fridays. Though that survey was done on only 1000 people, it still gives an inkling of the popularity of the phenomenon.

So what are the essentially Swedish ingredients on tacofredag? Cucumber, pineapple, yoghurt sauces, canned corn and even peanuts. These are also things that you might find on Swedish pizzas such as the Africana or the Hawaii, or even the odd Kebab Pizza (another Swedish take on imported food). 

As you can see, tacofredag is a widely appreciated and, due to its twists, quintessentially Swedish modern tradition. Invite your friends over for tacofredag instead of Taco Tuesday, and don’t forget to include the Swedish ingredients. It will certainly be appreciated.

Example sentences:

Vi tänkte ha tacofredag till helgen, vill ni komma?

We’re having Taco Friday this weekend, you wanna come?

Åh, jag älskar tacofredag!

Oh, I love Taco Fridays!

Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it. It is also possible to buy your copy from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Bokus or Adlibris.

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