Seasonal Lifestyle

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Seasonal Lifestyle

Seasonal Lifestyle


To some extent, the problem is one of a small population in a very large country. On the other hand, it is the abundance of space that enables most Swedes to enjoy their particular lifestyle, and to create, for example, such great national parks as the 1940 km2 (750 sq mile) Sareks. the largest such park in Europe. Just about every family has a car; many have a motor or sailing boat as well, and everywhere there is easy access to the countryside. Many families have a second home, whether a substantial villa or a prefabricated unit put together by a do-it-yourself buff. If winterized that is, with water, fuel and sewage pipes buried beneath the reach of frost these leisure homes can also be used for autumn hunting and winter skiing.

Life is geared very much to the seasons. Swedes make the most of the short summer, with school holidays running from early June until late August: during this period, business activities start and finish earlier in the day. The National Day, June 6. is a major summer occasion; but Midsummer Eve, when every community erects a tall cross-decked with greenery, flowers and ribbons, and throws an all-night party, is summers climax. As the nights lengthen, there is August crayfish parties to herald summer's close. Gloom begins to descend in November and deepens until the midwinter solstice, when south Sweden has about six hours of daylight, and north Sweden not much more than three. In Arctic Sweden, street lighting is never extinguished during the winter months and snow ploughs, snow blowers, defrosting machines and icebreakers stand by, constantly ready for action.

Each year a brave challenge is thrown into the face of darkness - the midwinter festivals of light. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent Sunday, candelabra burn in every window of Christmas trees are already aglow in town squares. On December 13, St. Lucia's Day, girls put on crowns of lighted candles, representing st. Lucia, the patron saint of light, and boys wear hats decorated with stars. The festive drink is glogg, mulled with wine aflame with brandy - Christmas ginger breads are baked, and tables are decorated with the red-capped trolls and straw goat of Yuletide. The festive fare is the Christmas cold table - the most extravagant of the smorgasbord.

Temperatures drop to their lowest about the end of February, though March can be radiant with sunshine. Schools have skiing holidays, while skiing competitions, local and national, are held as the days lengthen. Meanwhile, the students begin to look forward to May Day Eve - Walpurgis Night - when they put on their white caps and everybody celebrates the arrival of spring with bonfires, dance and song.

Although Sweden is a byword for neutrality, she has had her share of military adventure. The Protestant king, Gustavus Adolphus, was the greatest commander of the Thirty Years' War (l618-48). But the country has not fought a war since 1814.

On the whole, Sweden is about as near to a model state as the 20th century is likely to see. It is technically advanced, efficiently organized, affluent, egalitarian, politically neutral. In practice it is not without its problems and paradoxes. Some Swedes object to the standardization, state interference in private life, and high level of taxation that are necessary adjuncts to the welfare state.

Others fear that standards cannot be maintained and that the generous donation of 1 per cent of GNP that Sweden contributes to international aid may also has to be cut back. There are those too who are disturbed about possible racial tensions. A post Second World War influx of guest workers and refugees from Finland, the Baltic States, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, has had the result that one in ten of Swedish citizens have either been born abroad, or born of immigrant parents. A large majority clearly supports Sweden's neutral stance, though it is an armed neutrality with a large defense budget, military conscription and remunerative arms industry. Perhaps only in religious matters have the Swedes ceased to conform. No more than a small minority are still active churchgoers, though most citizens happily pay the tithes asked by the state church as an aid towards maintaining its splendid buildings. Nevertheless, the stern Lutheran ethic is firmly entrenched in the Swedish soul. From it stem the national virtues of discipline and hard work, and the value plated upon achievement.

Next: Sweden at a Glance

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