26 June, 2019

A Country Transformed by Summer

Swedish summertime is finally here; everyone is out and making the most of it. And what a contrast from the winter. Sweden really is a country transformed by summer.

The landscape in Sweden is utterly unrecognisable come summertime. From a palate of whites and greys to the deepest shades of blues and greens. Our daylight hours have stretched from just three hours and 45 minutes to a whopping twentyone hour and forty-three minutes. Life is completely different in the summer to the winter.

No longer frozen, the lakes are an ideal place for swimming and recreation.

A seasonal experience

As an immigrant moving to Sweden, the time of year you arrive may set the tone for your new life and the expectations you have of this new place. From the fairy-tale frozen winters with its twinkling stars and snow-covered trees to the magical, never-ending days, filled with picnics, wildflowers and exploring. But it’s not just the scenery that changes.

The seasons affect us, what we eat, how we dress, where we go. And nowhere is this more prominent than a country with such cold, dark winters and bright, warm summers. If you arrived in Sweden in the winter you may have seen the Swedish uniform of black. Some say the Swedes wear so much much black to mourn the loss of being able to feel their extremities. Either way, it may come as a surprise to see the colourful wardrobes appear come summer time.

For a traditional midsommar celebration, women tend to wear white. Read more about midsommar here.

A change of attitudes

There are so many wonderful aspects of winter. Those who aren’t put off by the sub-zero temperatures and short dark days may relish the chance to cosy down inside and practise some ‘Hygge’. That’s how the Swedes survive the winters, and those guys know what they are doing. However, whilst everyone is tucked up inside, it can be difficult to make friends and meet new people as a newbie.

Pass someone you know in the town? It’s hardly a good idea to stop and chat if it’s snowing and minus twenty degrees.

Winter celebrations provide a wonderful respite from the dark. Most of these events are reserved for spending time with families, such as Christmas and Sankta Lucia. By contrast, the long, warm summer days are spent eating, drinking and exploring with friends. The previously reserved Swedes take on a whole new persona come the summer. Those frosty winter encounters on the streets turn into hugs and laughter. Invitations to peoples summer houses and trips to the countryside are paired with drinking snaps and skinny dipping in the lakes.

This photo was taken from an end of term party with work, fishing and grilling.

Why it happens

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a great explanation for these behaviours. Put simply, we need to fulfil each level, working from the bottom, before we are able to progress to the next.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Therefore, if the winter evenings are gloomy and freezing cold, you may find that your physiological needs become your main focus. I certainly crave warming stews and nights in front of the fire. Only once we have passed through the levels of basic survival; needing food, shelter and sleep (of which we tend to get a lot in the winter) are we able to progress towards the final levels.

And so, we can only be creative, spontaneous and carefree when we reach self-actualisation. The summers in Sweden are filled with such things. Growing Smultron, collecting wildflowers and rowing on the lake.

Flower crowns, singing and dancing are all part of the midsomar celebrations.

What it all really means

The weather in Sweden is reflected in the culture. The Swedish have a wonderful way of not just surviving the extreme changes in weather, but of making the most out of every opportunity. Take that time in the winter to light some candles and bake aromatic pepparkarkor. Or hibernate in a cosy sweater with the ones you love during the winter, what else is there to do? And make hay (or more likely flower crowns) when the sun is shining.

Whenever you became, or plan on becoming a newbie in Sweden, take a leaf out of the Swede’s book and embrace the season and the changes it will have on you.

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Charlotte Garbutt
I am a foodie and feminist with a strong sense of adventure. I moved, with my husband and little black dog, to Skellefteå, Sweden from England in August 2018. I have since been eager to explore and learn more of the Swedish culture and language.