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Home About Swedish Traditions
Pea Soup and Pancakes Print

Pea soup and pancakes is a Thursday tradition in Sweden.  The tradition dates back to the 15th century when Sweden was primarily Catholic and a large meal was served the night before the Friday fast. Pea soup and pancakes is still served on Thursdays in restaurants and workplace cafeterias, as well as in the Swedish military.  Nowadays it's common to serve the soup with warm Punsch, a sweet arrack flavored spirit.

A Short History of the Semla Print

A semla, or semlor if more than one, is a sweet dessert bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream, and topped with powdered sugar. It is sometimes eaten with warm milk. The tasty dessert is served during Winter and especially on Fat Tuesday (aka Fettisdagen). Swedes eat about five a year. The tradition started as a way to clear the home of sweet foods before Lent. Fasting was a common observance during Lent, and getting rid of rich, sugary foods made it easier. Fasting is no longer connected to the season leading up to Easter in Sweden, but the tradition of eating semlor remains. If you are feeling adventurous, you can create your own semlor at home with this Americanized recipe.

Waffle Day Print

Mark your calendars for Waffle Day! It happens every year on March 25. Why eat waffles on this particular day? In the church calendar, March 25 is called Vårfrudagen in Sweden, which means “Our Lady’s Day” (also known as Annunciation, the day Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus). The holiday has nothing to do with waffles, you say. And you’re right! Unless you know that the word for waffle in Swedish is Våffel, which can sometimes sound like Vårfru. So, Our Lady’s Day came to be jokingly called Waffle Day in everyday vernacular. The play on words stuck and many Swedes happily feast on waffles to mark the day each year.

Kräftskiva Print

What's a kräftskiva (crawfish party)? As the name indicates, a kräftskiva is a party where you eat mostly crawfish and drink copious amounts of alcohol. In Sweden, some people even skip the crawfish altogether and get straight to drinking!  The month of August, during which back in the olden days crayfish were traditionally harvested, is the customary time for this extravaganza.  These days most of the crayfish consumed in Sweden are imported, and it doesn’t really matter what time of the year they’re harvested. But tradition is a sacred thing and needs to be observed.  Here in Houston, crawfish season typically runs from March through about June, so that's why our kräftskiva is in early spring.

Why is it traditional to wear silly hats at kräftskivan?  Nordstjernan - The Swedish Newspaper in America tells us that the custom of kräftskivan is not old and was created not from sentiments of nature romanticism, but by the bureaucracy that, a hundred years ago, prohibited the catching of crayfish but for a couple of months every fall. At one time, the lakes of Sweden teemed with this black gold, which was exported to the high-class restaurants of Paris, London and Berlin, but over-fishing threatened at one point to annihilate them. Thus regulations on the fishing emerged. When the crayfish-eating Swedes had to go without the delicacy right up until late summer, their return to the table became a cause for celebration, and so the crayfish party was born.

Valborgsmässoafton Print

While the name Walpurgis is taken from the eighth-century English missionary Saint Walburga, "Valborg", as it is called in Swedish, has very little to do with religion and everything to do with the arrival of spring. The forms of celebration vary in different parts of the country and between different cities. Walpurgis celebrations are not a family occasion but rather a public event, and local groups often take responsibility for organizing them to encourage community spirit in the village or neighborhood.

Walpurgis bonfires are part of a Swedish tradition dating back to the early 18th century. At Walpurgis (Valborg), farm animals were let out to graze and bonfires (majbrasor, kasar) lit to scare away predators. In southern Sweden, an older tradition, no longer practiced, was for the younger people to collect greenery and branches from the woods at twilight. These were used to adorn the houses of the village. The expected reward for this task was to be paid in eggs.

(from Wikipedia)

Midsommar Print

Raising and dancing around a maypole (majstång or midsommarstång) is an activity that attracts families and many others. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, even though most don't take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstång, maja coming originally from the month May. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a "midsommarstång" (literally midsummer pole).

(from Wikipedia)

Sweden's National Day Print

Since 1983, Sweden has celebrated its National Day on 6 June. This is the date on which Gustav Vasa was crowned king in 1523, which laid the foundation of Sweden as an independent state, and on which a new, important constitution was adopted in 1809.

The original idea came from Artur Hazelius, who founded the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm and held a national day celebration there on 6 June as early as the 1890s.

At the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, Sweden presented Midsummer Day as a form of Swedish national day, so in the 1890s Sweden celebrated the occasion twice a year. In 1916, 6 June became the Swedish Flag Day, celebrating the fact that Sweden had acquired its own flag following the dissolution of the union with Norway in 1905.


Smörgåsbord Print

A traditional Swedish smörgåsbord consists of both hot and cold dishes. Bread, butter, and cheese are always part of the smörgåsbord. It is customary to begin with the cold fish dishes which are generally various forms of herring, salmon, and eel. After eating the first portion, people usually continue with the second course (other cold dishes), and round off with hot dishes. Dessert may or may not be included in a smörgåsbord.

(from Wikipedia)

Lucia Print

Although St. Lucy's Day is not an official holiday in Sweden, it is a popular occasion in Sweden. At many universities, students hold big formal dinner parties since this is the last chance to celebrate together before most students go home to their families for Christmas.

The modern tradition of having public processions in the Swedish cities started in 1927 when a newspaper in Stockholm elected an official Lucy for Stockholm that year. The initiative was then followed around the country through the local press. Today most cities in Sweden appoint a Lucy every year. Schools elect a Lucy and her maids among the students and a national Lucy is elected on national television from regional winners. The regional Lucies will visit shopping malls, old people's homes and churches, singing and handing out gingernut cookies (pepparkakor).

(from Wikipedia)

Smörgåstårta, a Swedish Culinary Specialty Print

The Swedish word smörgås translates into English as sandwich. The literal translation may seem a little odd as it combines the words for butter and goose, the distant cousin of ducks and swans. The word said to date back to the 16th century refers to the churning of butter, where lumps of butter rise upward floating like geese on the surface of the milk. Such lumps of butter came to be spread on bread. While this defines the basic sandwich, various toppings of sliced vegetables and meats are usually included in the typical sandwich. Although unrelated in this context the Swedish language has also adopted other expressions with the word goose, such as Vita Gäss for White Caps at Sea.

The smörgåstårta is a layered cake resembling a dessert or coffee tart in shape and appearance. The difference is in the composition and ingredients of a sandwich, which are salty or main course related rather than sweets. Layers typical ranging from three to four are made up of varying types of loafed bread where individual loaves are joined to allow for producing a given size layer of circular, rectangular or other shapes. Depending on the occasion, day-to-day or more festive or celebrational gatherings, there is plenty of choice in selecting ingredients and garnishments. The smörgåstårta is very popular in Sweden and other Nordic countries and is either custom prepared at home or by a bakery, typically providing a few different choices, for instance seafood, meat or cheese based or variations thereof.