In the latest in her series about relocating to Sweden, Duška Radosavljević Krojer explores the rituals of summer partying, Swedish-style.
Quietly ushered in by the Easter weekend, party season in Sweden begins in earnest around about the first weekend of May when the jubilant masses descend on their local parks to celebrate the Walburg. (The Walburg night is a celebration made famous of course by Goethe’s Faust as the dance of the witches, and hijacked I suspect by early day undercover communists as ‘the international workers’ day’ at some point at the turn of the twentieth century).
Initiated by the smell of barbecues, the partying continues on through early June with university students picnicking on grassy surfaces and high school graduates hooting and singing around the town in roofless vehicles, and it eventually culminates with the Midsummer weekend (remember the feast in Strindberg’s Miss Julie?), when adorned with garlands of seasonal flowers and suitable fanfare, the Swedes welcome in the summer season and then retreat into their summer houses.
Partying seems highly ritualised in Sweden – a country where you cannot buy alcohol in regular shops but only in designated licensed outlets of which the student town of Lund has only two in the city centre.
The unbridled and exuberant display of collective celebration represents the other side of the coin to an otherwise highly restrained form of social interaction. Our Lonely Planet guide to Sweden gave as an early and accurate warning that Swedes do not like casual chat, they are nervous about strangers sitting next to them in public transport if there are seats available elsewhere, and they look out of their peephole on the way out of their apartments to make sure they don’t bump into any neighbours. On the other hand, Swedes also value community and communal living to a greater extent than most other Europeans! When you live in an apartment block the expectation is that everyone will at some point do something to contribute towards community interests (by serving on the residents’ board or volunteering to take care of some shared household jobs) and there will usually be a party or two organised for all the residents, with at least one of those at a suitable point in the summer when the majority are back from their holiday homes or international travels.
Last summer, our residents’ association organised a balcony party – a concept whereby households were grouped and regrouped for each of three possible courses (starter, main course, dessert), each participating household being tasked with hosting one of those on their balconies. In between courses we all returned to the shared garden for drinks, general mingling and regrouping, and at the end there was also live music on the patio. It was an exciting intergenerational event where IKEA executives mixed with students, pensioners with young kids, and single mums with keen dog-owners. The following day, of course, we all returned to silent greetings in lifts and corridors, but more informed about each other and with slightly warmer smiles.
This has at times made me yearn for the comparatively more forthcoming everyday friendliness of the Brits, but at the same time it has also helped me rediscover a long forgotten memory of the Balkan measure for partying: one where you are allowed to turn up the volume at the socially sanctioned moments though not to such an extent where you have to end up punishing yourself British-style into the stupor of drunken oblivion.
As a migrant you find of course you also have your own personal rituals and celebrations to fit into the annual calendar, some of them preconditioned by your previous acculturations and some entirely self-designed. Thus I still crack eggs with my kids for Easter Serbian-style and sing Ding Dong Merrily on High for Christmas English-style, and then each August Edinburgh and its festival invades my dreams and thoughts in the way that only my fellow theatre people will understand.
The way Sweden finally stole my heart, took my breath away and entered my annual calendar was at my daughter’s school graduation ceremony – a whole school event in a local church attended by parents and relatives. The programme was simple: each schoolyear starting with preschoolers would perform a pre-rehearsed musical number, all the way to the children in year nine who then used their moment to jubilantly run out of the building on the wings of the song about freedom. But the most joyous moment for me was the penultimate number when the teachers took to the stage to perform a highly choreographed dance which clearly took a few weeks to rehearse.(click to watch) This willingness to turn the tables and take on the pressure of hard work and self-exposure in a fun way is probably all one needs to know about Swedish approach to pedagogy and, having never before taken any personal interest in dancing, I’m now completely convinced of the need to learn a few steps if that’s what it takes to take part in celebrating learning in Sweden.
Read the first part of Duška Radosavljević Krojer’s Migration Diary: An Improvised Life, and the most recent, The Dedijer Connection.
Duška Radosavljević Krojer is a writer, dramaturg and academic. She is the author of award-winning academic monograph Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (2013) and editor of Theatre Criticism: Changing Landscapes (2016) and the Contemporary Ensemble: Interviews with Theatre-Makers (2013). Her work has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK multiple times including for www.auralia.space (2020-21) and The Mums and Babies Ensemble (2015). She is a regular contributor to The Stage, Exeunt and The Theatre Times.