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Swedish Ways: Gustav Adolf’s Day

Back in the 1600s, Sweden was a much bigger country than it is now, and we were at war a lot. We even went all the way down Germany and besieged places like Koblenz (colour me surprised!). As school children, we learn of all this, and we can’t not remember the story of how King Gustav II Adolf (wider known in English as Gustavus Adolphus Magnus, apparently) met his maker.

It goes something like this (bearing in mind it was 20 years ago now):

The 6th of November 1632 was a very foggy day on the battlefield in Lützen (outside Leipzig) in Germany. The king, riding in front to lead the troops set off as normal … but because of the fog, and because he had a very fast horse, he didn’t realise that he had managed to get far ahead of the rest of the troops, until he was basically right in the middle of the enemy lines. By then it was too late, and the king came to a sticky end.

But we still won the battle.

Battle of Lützen

Technically, it was fog mixed with gunpowder smoke, but he was separated from his troups, and he did die as a direct result of this, and the political implications and why we were at war weren’t exactly made clear to a bunch of 10- or 11-year-olds, but you know. And apparently, according to the calendar we use nowadays, the battle was actually fought on the 16th, but we used a different calendar back in the day and so to Swedes, it was the 6th. Never knew that. Thanks, Wikipedia!

The date, 6th of November, is still celebrated today, and it’s an official flag day too, which means if you have a flag, hoist it. This is something we do regularly over the year, and should’ve been mentioned a lot earlier, but then I did miss to do a number of posts in August through October, so I guess I’ll have something to do next year. Apparently, Finland and Estonia also have celebrations on this day for the same reason, although the Finns have it as a “Swedishness Day”, apparently. (Terve, Suomi!)

There’s a kind of pastry sold on this day, bearing a picture of the king. I don’t think I have ever tasted one, and I’m struggling to remember if I have seen them sold anywhere, although I don’t suppose I have ever gone to the local bakery specifically on this day just to see if they do. Looking at Google Images, there doesn’t seem to be any particular set recipe or style either, as all the pastries look different. The only thing in common is the king’s head on top. This might explain why none of my Swedish cook books have a recipe for them, including the much loved and celebrated Sju sorters kakor.

Regardless, 6 November is still remembered today, as Gustav Adolfsdagen, Gustav Adolf’s Day.

Since 1997, though, it has a more personal association. Something I’ve mentioned before, actually, although not linked to the date. It was the evening when my mum (and her brother) got the “it won’t be long now” call from the hospice, and she stayed away all night. The only ones at home at the time was my oldest sister and I (middle sister was away at uni and dad was away on business), and we spent the rest of the night talking, preparing ourselves for the inevitable. Mum returned home at 7am to tell us that her mother had passed away during the night, in the presence of her two children. She had been ill for months, so it was no surprise when she finally went. I’m glad she wasn’t alone. So while Allhelgonadagen fell on the weekend just gone, I’ll light a candle for her and for my other dearly departed.

And possibly bake a cake or something. Maybe I can make the king’s head out of sprinkles? 🙂

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

8 thoughts on “Swedish Ways: Gustav Adolf’s Day

  1. Just want to expand on the history-part a bit:
    -The latin part “magnus” just means “the great”, and Gustav Adolf is the only Swedish king to have that suffix.
    -The fighting was part of the 30 years war, a war basically fought between Catholics and Protestants (with catholic France a passive supporter of the Protestant side for geopolitical reasons). Sweden ended up with large parts of northern Germany.
    -An additional reason that Gustavus Adolphus Magnus went ahead of his troops was that he was short sighted, so that made matters worse after the fog and smoke.
    -I’ve read somewhere that one of the Catholic regiments the king encountered was dressed similar to one of the Swedish household regiments, and hence he tried to command them for a while until he was shot.
    -The horse he rode was brought back to Sweden and stuffed and today it can be seen in “livrustkammaren” in the basement of the royal palace in Stockholm.

    1. Yeah, mine was based off a memory from when I was 10 or 11, which is not as reliable as an actual history book! So thank you for sharing! 🙂

      It’s funny how he’s referred to as “the Great”, because I don’t remember him ever being referred to in Swedish as “den Store”. Or is memory failing me?

      I’m sure we were taught that it was a part of the 30 Years War at the time, but I can’t remember any details. 17th century Catholics and Protestants fighting might be a little too advanced for 10-year-olds. 😀 Now that you mention it, I’m sure I’ve heard the bit about him being short sighted at some point. It adds to the general feeling of “d’oh!” The uniforms thing is fascinating.

      The King: Följ mig!
      Soldiers: What’s he saying? And who is that guy anyway?

      You know, I thought about the horse, because I thought that’s the one they’ve got stuffed in Livrustkammaren. As it wasn’t mentioned (that I could see) when I looked at Wikipedia, I forgot about it. Thank you! (Maybe I should’ve actually checked the Swedish version …) Mum and I went to Livrustkammaren once. Very grim place. Didn’t stay long. *shudders* But I remember seeing the horse. 🙂

  2. Don’t think I have ever seen nor tasted these pastries, either. Do know they exist, though!..
    (Some focus on history, other on cakes… We’re all different, I guess…)

  3. This was funny because I actually lectured about the military history of the Thirty Years’ War on Monday and mentioned the Battle of Lützen. Didn’t realize that the dates coincided so much!

    1. Life is full of funny coincidences sometimes. 🙂 Needless to say, your lecture was vastly more historically correct and educational than my little blog post! It’s funny, though, because I really don’t remember anything about the war itself from that lesson many years ago, just that a king got lost on a foggy field. There might have been something about the Peace of Westphalia, though, as that seemed to ring a bell when I was researching Münster.

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