On June 6, Swedes have the day off to celebrate their National Day. Demonstrations of national pride don’t come naturally to Swedes, who are still deciding what to do with the holiday.
Although many people will raise the Swedish flag, June 6 is much more than a flag day. Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se
June 6 became the Swedish National Day in 1983 and was previously known as Swedish flag day. It marks the coronation of Gustav Vasa in 1523 and the adoption of a new constitution in 1809. But the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) only designated June 6 a public holiday in 2005 to encourage people to celebrate being Swedish.
Apart from decorating public transport with blue and yellow flags, Swedes are still figuring out what to do with the holiday. Some people resent the Whit Monday public holiday making room for June 6 and the loss of a guaranteed long weekend at the cottage. Others worry that a National Day will stir up the wrong kind of nationalism. But it is most likely that this holiday — which everyone can celebrate, regardless of culture or religion — will do more to bring the nation together than to divide it.
Cause for celebration
In 2006, Nordiska Museet (the Nordic Museum) conducted a survey among Swedes to find out how they perceive their National Day. Results show that immigrants are especially eager to embrace the holiday. For the many immigrants who associate the day with receiving Swedish citizenship, there is a great deal of which to be proud, says ethnologist Lena Kättström Höök at Nordiska Museet.
“Some Swedes say, ‘Why do we need a National Day when we have midsummer? Midsummer is our national holiday.’ But many new Swedes think it is important to celebrate living in a free and independent country. This is perhaps something us old Swedes can learn to appreciate more.”
Some Swedes argue that midsummer is their National Day.
Photo: Hans Bjurling/Johnér
Kendal von Sydow, a communications consultant, grew up in the United States where July 4 is widely celebrated. She became a Swedish citizen in 2001 and says it is important for Sweden to have a National Day as well. “It’s a time for people to reflect on what it means to be a citizen of the country, as well its history and position today. It seems that many Swedes aren’t comfortable with publicly expressing pride in their country.”
But Kättström Höök says people are unsure how to respond to a National Day. “Most of our celebrations are rooted in tradition and everyone knows how to celebrate them, but it will take time for people to get accustomed to this new holiday.”
Sofia Polhammer, originally from Gothenburg, agrees. “I think a National Day is important, but it will be a while before it takes shape. June 6 will never be as important to Swedes as May 17 is to Norwegians. In Norway, the National Day is a big day, especially for children.”
Nationaldagsbakelsen, or the Swedish national cake, is the result of a pastry chef competition. Photo: Jacob Fridholm/imagebank.sweden.se
Many Stockholmers take part in the festivities at and around the Royal Palace. If you're lucky, the Nationaldagsbakelse is served. The strawberry and almond-paste pastry, which won the National Day cake competition, bears the Swedish flag.
Getting into the spirit
Others join the celebrations at the Skansen open-air museum, where there is usually flag waving, folk dancing, music and speeches.
In addition to the pomp and ceremony in Stockholm, many cities and towns across Sweden will be celebrating June 6.
The Nordiska Museet survey indicates many people celebrate the Swedish National Day informally, too. “Respondents say they often have a picnic with friends or family,” Kättström Höök reveals. “Many eat herring, potatoes, strawberries and other traditional Swedish food, and most raise the flag that day.”
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Cari Simmons is a “new Swede” with dual nationality. Although she refuses to give up her flag waving on Canada Day, she does promise to pay more attention to June 6 this year and honor it by eating two national day pastries.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
This is an updated version of an article from 2006.
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