Today is Sweden’s National Day. Although the day may seem historically significant, the Swedish National Day has not been around for very long.
The 6th of June was originally known as Swedish Flag Day, until 1983 when it was renamed the National Day of Sweden. The day itself did not become a national holiday until 2005, when the Swedish government removed one of the Easter-related holidays, and made National Day celebrations a public holiday instead.
In Sweden, there is far more tradition and zeal associated with May 1st, also known as International Worker's Day. This comes as a direct result of Swedish socialism, a far more prominent characteristic of Swedish culture.
Roughly one week after National Day, Swedes celebrate Midsummer, which is also a far larger celebration. In many ways, Midsummer is a much more traditional and quintessential Swedish celebration than the National Day. It may be the case that National Day is somewhat overshadowed by Midsummer and May 1st, giving rise to the apathy that many Swedes seem to show.
The rest of Scandinavia
Sweden differs a little from Denmark, who have their National Day just one day before, on June 5th. In Denmark, the day is just like any other, and people go about their lives as usual. A study from 2012 reported that 77% of Danes do not celebrate the Danish National Day at all, compared to 57% of Swedes.
In Norway, however, their National Day is a very big deal. Only 11% of Norwegians said that they do not celebrate. Every May 17th, people dress up in traditional clothing, and there are huge parades through the streets. Big parties are thrown and a lot of alcohol is often consumed. National pride is unashamed, with the overall mood being one of great celebration and partying.
Generally, there is an air of embarrassment to patritism in Sweden. This is due in part to the rise in far-right nationalist groups and political parties such as the Swedish Democrats.
Sweden has not experienced a military conflict for over 200 years. War can have the effect of bringing a country together and promoting patriotism among everyday people. During the Second World War, Sweden remained neutral, letting the German trains travel straight through the country in order to stay out of the conflict. Meanwhile, Norway was occupied by Germany.
Today, more than ever, globalisation has made the average Swede consider themselves not just Swedish but also a part of the world as a whole. Thus patriotism seems to be reserved for sporting events.
Being a small country means having a small market. As businesses and the tech industries have grown, Sweden has had to think internationally in order to prevail, which might be a key factor in the dwindling patriotism.
Additionally, Swedish culture is permeated by something called The Law of Jante, a social construct which looks negatively upon success and achievement as being both improper and unbecoming. This may have something to do with the shame many Swedes seem to inhabit when it comes to celebrating their country.
More people are celebrating
Despite an overall indifference for Swedish National Day, research shows that more people are celebrating each year. Interestingly, the 2017 report from SOM-Institute at Gothenburg University states, “It may seem surprising that the tendency to celebrate National Day has increased most among people who have not grown up in Sweden.”
This increase most likely has to do with the fact that every municipality in Sweden makes an effort to welcome all immigrants who have become Swedish citizens in the past year. Every year, they host a ceremony in honour of new citizens, an event that generally happens on National Day.
With the trend to celebrate the future of Sweden, and not just observe moments of its past, Sweden’s National Day could easily become a more noteworthy day. Some might say that this is the essence of Sweden. Taking an existing tradition, one which has become stale and irrelevant to most, and transforming it into a new custom. Shifting the focus from a day of patriotism to an inclusive day that welcomes newcomers into its midst.
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