clown.gifSwedish Traditions: Happy New Year!

          GOTT NYTT AR!!!wine.gif


New Year celebrations in Sweden are much the same as in other counties. Whereas on a Christmas evening the streets are more or less deserted, on New Year’s Eve they are thronged with people. New Years is celebrated with friends and acquaintances, at home or in a restaurant, and elated crowds can be seen moving from one disco or bar to another. At the stroke of midnight they throw streamers, tootle trumpets, blow out paper serpents and let off fireworks from balconies or gardens——and then they go all sentimental recalling the past year and making resolutions for the new one. Noise is a part of the occasion, but the “New Year Bangers” of past ages, from shotguns and pistols, were intended to ward off witchcraft. One old fashioned way of seeing the New Year in was playing fortune—telling games like pouring molten lead in water and deducing, from the shapes formed, what the new year will bring.

The first part of January is used for the rounding off of Christmas. Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany, is not one of the symbol—laden days of the church year and, in quite a few churches, it is no longer a holy day at all. Mostly it is an extra day off work.

A special tradition connected with the Twelfth Night that is no longer observed was the time when the “star—boys” appeared. A handful of school boys would dress up as the Three Wise Men and, together with King Herod and Judas, with a collecting bag, would go from farm to farm, putting on a little drama about the Star of Bethlehem, the Slaughter of the Innocents and the Flight’ into Egypt.

In most other countries Twelfth Night marks the absolute end of Christmas celebrations, but the Swedes, Finns, and some Norwegians feel it is a pity to finish that early and prefer to stretch: Christmas another week into the New Year. That gives the terminal date of January 13th. It is not exactly clear why the Swedes continue their Christmas celebrations for an extra week, but there is a lot to suggest that the notorious “Midwinter sacrifice” of the Viking era, with its human sacrifices and great feastings, took place on the 13th of January and so it is believed that the early Christian Church in the Nordic countries sought to exterminate the abomination by bringing the midwinter sacrifice into the fold of Christmas.

It is on January 13th that the young Swedish families “plunder the Christmas tree.” The children of friends and relatives gather to strip the tree, which is now shedding copious quantities of needles, and also to play games, eat cake and drink a fruit drink, throw out the Christmas tree and, eventually, walk home with a bag of sweets in one hand and in the other the treasures acquired from a lucky-dip “fishing pond’ in one corner of the living room.