Swedish Ways: Nyårsafton

This is the first post of this year’s theme, which is oh so imaginatively called: Swedish Ways. This is a theme focusing on the year in a Swedish calendar, with all those things we celebrate, when and why, or rather, how. There are a lot more things than eight days of note here, so let’s get crackin’ with the first one: Nyårsafton, or simply good ol’ New Year’s Eve in English. Figured it’d be easier to start off with that, rather than writing about New Year’s Day tomorrow and having to either wait a year to explain what happened the night before, or having to explain it now and then again in a year’s time, so I’m starting a day early, technically.

When it comes to Swedes, in all likelihood, New Year’s Eve will be spent in one of two ways:

  1. Binge drinking at a party
  2. Quiet night at home in front of the telly

Either way, a nice dinner will probably made. Sometimes, maybe it’s Christmas food (we’ll get to that next December), but more often than not, New Year’s Eve is seen as a time to do something really festive and really push the boat out. You ever eat lobster? No? This is the time. Caviar? Bring it on!

Growing up, my mum would decide to try things she had never tried making before, with … varied results. I seem to recall a champagne jelly that never set, for instance, and glace au four (Baked Alaska – huh, didn’t realise they were the same thing until just now) was also attempted another year.

New Year’s Eve is a bit glitzy, and definitely glamorous, so even if you don’t go out, you’d still dress up, use your finest china and have the fancy food.

When we were young, the family spent the night along with a bunch of other families, but as us kids tended to be shoved upstairs out of the way so that the grown-ups could drink in peace, my parents decided that was not how they’d like to welcome in the new year, and started celebrating at home with another family instead. They’d come to us, or we’d go to them, and as each family both had three girls of the same ages, we still feel more like cousins than just friends. We were never shoved upstairs, and as the parents of the other family were tee-totals, there was no drinking either, and we all had fun and enjoyed each other’s company. As us kids grew up, the families sort of stopped celebrating together somewhere along the line, but those times will always be cherished memories for me.

Being the quiet, introverted sort, binge drinking at a party doesn’t hold any attraction for me, and it never has. When we went from 1999 to 2000, I was 17, and here’s where I was:

That’s right! At home with mum and dad!

…Okay, granted, I was a little bit disappointed that the idea some online friends had of spending the night together in London at a big meetup didn’t happen, but instead, we postponed it about 7.5 months and had a blast then instead.

Anyway. On New Year’s Eve, there’s a tradition of showing a particular black and white comedy sketch from 1963 at some point. There are similar traditions in many other countries around Europe, and no one can probably say why it’s so immensely popular when it’s virtually unknown in its native UK. Talking, of course, about Dinner for One, or as we call it, Grevinnan och Betjänten (the Countess and the Butler):

Yeah, nothing says New Year’s Eve like a drunk butler and a blind old lady …

There will also normally be a comedy or musical show of some sort, that was recorded at a theatre somewhere earlier in the year. Eventually, as midnight approaches, SVT (Sveriges Television, the Swedish equivalent of the BBC) switch to broadcasting live from the stage at Skansen in Stockholm, where someone will read a Swedish translation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem Ring Out, Wild Bells. I grew up with actor Jarl Kulle doing this, but after a brief four years with Margaretha Krook, it’s now done by Jan Malmsjö:

We’ll raise our champagne glasses, whether they be filled with champagne or soft drink (traditionally Pommac or Champis) or cider, say “Skål!” (“cheers!”) and wish each other a “Gott nytt år!” (“happy new year!”), sip said beverage and go to a window (or outside, if not bothered about the cold) to watch the fireworks.

After that, well, it depends on where you are and what you’re doing, but if it’s a quiet night in, you might start heading off to bed around half past one or so, depending on when you’ve managed to get your texts and phonecalls through a suddenly overwhelmed telecoms system. If you’re out partying, well, the new year has only just begun, so you’ll probably be celebrating for hours yet.

In 2001, as I had only just returned back from Germany that morning and spent the previous night on a bus, I spent most of the day a) sleeping, b) relaxing in a bathtub, c) in front of the computer, and basically coming down for dinner and midnight, both which were spent robed and in pyjamas … I’m such a party animal. 😉

New Years that I’ve spent in the UK since moving over have been more along the lines of what I’m used to from back home, because as a couple of introverts, that’s quite enough excitement for one night. This year, we’re actually doing something really out of the ordinary – spending it with another couple … of introverts. 😀 Can’t wait, it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, I wish you, Dear Reader, a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and I hope 2012 will be a lot better than 2011 was, because parts of 2011 really kinda sucked. Thank you for sticking with me in 2011, and I hope you’ll come back again in 2012.

*raises a glass*

Here’s to you, my friend, and here’s to your family. May the year ahead bring you joy, health and happiness, and that if any sorrows or misfortune pass your way, that they will resolve themselves quickly and to your favour, and that you come out on the other side a stronger, better person for it.

Skål och gott nytt år!

P.S. Should you come aross The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Swedes … speaking as a Swede, I can totally vouch for it. There are many spot on observations in there, including the description of a Swedish New Year …

P.P.S. How do you spend New Year’s Eve where you are? 🙂

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