Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Swedish Xmas

Updating my blog isn’t something I would ordinarily expect to do on Christmas Day, but such is the strangeness of Christmas in Sweden that I’ve ended up doing a few things I wouldn’t normally do, and eating raw herring is just the start of it.

The first odd thing about Christmas in Sweden is that it takes place on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. The food, the presents, all the festivities are on Christmas Eve, meanwhile on Christmas Day nobody does anything except maybe go to a church service, or in my case write a blog entry. This of course begs the question: What is the point in having a Christmas Day when the actually festivities take place the night before?
I have since learnt that this practice derives from an earlier time when Sweden was far more religious and conservative place. As a religious holiday, it was forbidden to do anything remotely fun and enjoyable. Everything was closed and everyone was expected to attend the local church, thus all festivities had to be confined to the previous night. As time has passed and Sweden has become radically more progressive and educated, Swedes have gotten over this religious guilt complex and suddenly found themselves with a free day. Today Christmas Day has become a day to go out drinking with friends, and quite typically Swedes use this day to drink the only way they know how: to excess.

Another bizarre Christmas tradition in Sweden is watching Disney cartoons. At 3pm every Christmas Eve the local TV station broadcasts old Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. The story behind this oddity is that when television was first set up in Sweden in the 1950s, there was much debate about what it should be used for, and what should be shown to the nation’s youth. Cartoons were considered detrimental and destructive for young minds so Disney was banned. However one exception was made: for one hour every Christmas Eve Disney would be screened and thus a new Christmas tradition was born. Of course the ban on Disney has long been lifted, but the tradition remains, and for older Swedes it is a nostalgic reminder of an age when Mother Sweden protected their innocence.

To counteract this capitalist American propaganda, Disney is always followed by a Swedish made cartoon called ‘Karl Bertil Jonssons julafton’ (pictured below). It’s a short cartoon about a weedy looking kid who spends Christmas Eve stealing presents from the rich, and redistributing them to the poor. Some of Karl’s more bizarre acts of social justice include giving a copy of Jean-Paul Sartre to a homeless alcoholic, and a tie to a prostitute. Karl’s father, a successful sales executive, obviously gets upset when he finds his presents in the hands of whores and drunks and thus makes Karl go round and apologise to all the rich people he stole from. But much to everyone’s surprise all the upper class toffs they meet are actually getting more enjoyment from seeing poor people with their new gifts than they ever would from the gifts themselves. Hence they all pledge to continue to redistribute their wealth to the less well off, and the Swedish welfare state is born. Young children all over Sweden are left thinking “Sure we’re forbidden from watching Mickey Mouse, but isn’t it great to live in a country where we’re taxed 50% of our wages.”


Jan said...

Merry Xmas Nic. Some of the pics look a bit like Doncaster. bet you're missing the Sortino ads.

Max said...

i hope that last part was a ridiculous joke or were you actually serious? first off, they don't "all pledge to continue to redistribute their wealth to the less well off", that you have made up. And where ahve you heard that story of the Disney-ban? it might be true, but it's of course not like that now (as I know, you pointed out) so why do you keep mentioning that in the end? and for your information, i haven't heard about anyone having to pay 50% of his wages to taxes, that's just bullshit. the average is about 33% which both my parents pay, for example (I still go at the university...). I know that's more than in Britain 8where u from, right?) but boy, do we got a lot of stuff for it. I know what you're doing here, you're trying to make Sweden look like a very non-free communist soviet-state from the seventies, where everything American is banned and everyone pay half their money to the state. that is, of course, bullshit. The show is just a cute and funny story on how you can give a little happiness to those worse off than yourself. What's wrong with that?

But as I said, I hope that was just a joke, for your own sake, more than anything...

Nic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nic said...

Hi Max
If you take the time to read through the rest of my blog, you'd notice that a lot of my posts are quite tongue-in-check and not meant to be taken too seriously. So yeah, a lot of what I write can be taken as a joke. (Sometimes quite lame jokes, but jokes all the same.) However such jokes are based on fact and personal experience so I do stand by many of my claims, even if I have exaggerated on occasions.
The story of the Disney ban came from my girlfriend's relatives. Maybe you'd like to ask your own parents to verify it. I did make it pretty clear this is no longer the case; I was simply trying to explain why Sweden has this bizarre tradition of watching the same Disney cartoons every Christmas Eve.
As for taxes, I can only point out that I get taxed 30% even though I'm earning minimum wage. This is more than I've ever been taxed living in Australia or Britain. It's fair to say Sweden is renowned for its high taxes. Why else do you think its one of the most expensive countries in Europe?
I don't mean to sound critical. I fully appreciate that high taxes fund a social welfare system that leaves Sweden with some of the highest living standards in the world. But I don't think I'm being misleading if I imply Sweden has high taxes.
I have absolutely no problem with the moral message being delivered by 'Karl Bertil Jonssons julafton’, but I think I can speak for most non-Swedes when I say it is somewhat unique to have a cartoon about a kid giving presents to prostitutes and alcoholics.
As for your allegation that I'm trying to depict Sweden as an impoverished Soviet-era police state, I can only assume now you’re the one telling jokes. When have I ever suggested Sweden wasn't free? I mentioned that Disney cartoons were once banned from Swedish television. Yet you've turned that around to suggest I'm claiming that everything American is banned, and that Sweden is on par with Stalinism. I don't quite understand your logic here.
Finally a lot of the content on my blog is about the various quirks and eccentricities of Swedish society and culture. I always welcome criticism and happy to acknowledge if I’ve made a mistake. But as I said a lot of it is written tongue-in-cheek and is meant to amuse, not offend. It really isn’t worth getting so worked up about.