New Year celebrations

Nyårsfester

New Year celebration at Skansen in Sweden
A New Year celebration seen from Restaurang Solliden at Skansen, Stockholm (www.skansenrestauranger.se)

These days New Year celebrations in Sweden are fairly similar to those across the globe. In common with many nations, Swedes usually spend New Year's Eve with friends, whereas Christmas is normally a family event.

Often the evening kicks-off with a special meal! Lobster and champagne is particularly popular as is steak with a nice creamy sauce. Chocolate often features in the dessert course. In other words, the food has a very international style and so husmanskost (traditional Swedish home cooking) does not normally make an appearance on New Year's Eve.

Early celebrations

At one time, Sweden was celebrating the start of a New Year a week before most other countries! The reason was because Sweden was one of the last countries to change from the old Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, so a year ended in Sweden a week before most other European countries.

(In the old almanac, December 13th was the longest night of the year. Lucia Processions, which commemorate the days getting longer, are still held on on December 13th, even though according to the calendar we use today it is not the longest night of the year. Swedes don't give up traditions easily!)

Gunshots to fireworks

In the olden days the New Year was often seen in with a shot towards each point of the compass. The shots were meant to keep evil away and they formed the origins of today's firework celebrations on the stroke of midnight.

Unfortunately, in recent years, there have been many accidents involving New Year's Eve fireworks, so the sale of fireworks is now heavily restricted.

New Year's Eve Ball

During the 18th century it became fashionable for the upper classes in Sweden, especially in Stockholm, to attend a New Year's Eve Ball. However the Sumptuary Law, introduced in 1766, specified restrictions on what different social classes could buy so, for instance, farmers could only serve nuts and honey-sweetened fruit, but the nobility could enjoy whatever they wanted! Hence New Year's Eve Balls were only for the upper classes.

Ringing in the New Year

Ever since 1893, when the custom began at Skansen, Stockholm's open-air museum, the country's churches ring in the New Year at midnight.

Waiting for the clock to strike midnight

Waiting for the clock to strike midnight became popular in the 1920s when people could listen on a radio to a clock they could trust.

Dinner for One!

Image from Grevinnan och betjänten broadcast on Swedish television
Photo from svt.se

At 7.45 on New Year's Eve many Swedes watch Grevinnan och betjänten (Dinner for One) on svt1 (the main TV channel). It is a short black and white programme in English, recorded by German television in 1963. It has never been popular in the UK, but has been broadcast at the same time every year in Sweden since 1980. I've never really understood how it helps to prepare Swedes to celebrate the New Year!

In the programme an elderly upper-class Englishwoman hosts a birthday dinner every year for her friends. The problem is that she has outlived all of her friends, and so her equally aged manservant makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn. By the end of the dinner he is severely inebriated, whilst she still appears to be sober and oblivious to his drunken state. (The programme is available on YouTube by clicking here.)

New Year's Eve Concert from Skansen

Jan Malmsjö reading on the main stage at Skansen
Photo of Jan Malmsjö by svt

As it approaches midnight many Swedes will turn on the television again, but this time to see a live concert from Skansen. In addition to hearing the bells chiming, watching the fireworks over the city and various musicians performing there is a reading of Tennyson's "Ring Out, Wild Bells'.

The poem is read just before midnight, a tradition started in 1897. Since 1977 it has been broadcast live by svt and watching it on television is now firmly established as a nationwide tradition. Over the years many famous actors and/or singers have recited the poem including, since 2001, Jan Malmsjö shown above.

The Swedish version of the poem, which differs significantly from the original English version, is called Nyårsklockan (The New Year's Bell) and is from a translation by Edvard Fredin.

Of course, many Stockholmers like to go to Skansen to be part of the audience (it is standing room only) and to enjoy the spectacular view over the city. The wealthy like to book a table for Nyårsupé in Skansen's Restaurang Solliden, which has good views of the city's fireworks and the main stage, but if you are considering going be sure to book early as it is very popular despite the high prices.

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