Over the years, Swedish culture has been subjected to influences from many different countries, going back to England, Denmark and Norway in the early part of the Middle Ages, and later, Germany, France and, most recently, English-speaking countries. However, within what might be called the overarching national culture, also lie the distinct cultures of each of Sweden’s twenty-five provinces, a phenomenon brought about by their individual and chequered histories, and the Swedish population relates to these as much as it does to any national cultural characteristic.
The Swedes are avid readers and they have around 2,000 free public libraries from which to make their choices. In fact, they borrow nearly 65 million books a year, 40% for children, and the rest for adults, split evenly between fiction and non-fiction. The publishing industry is dominated by a few publishing houses, and much of their output is translated from English. They do, however, possess some authors whose works are well read, such as Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking.
Swedish design is often described as being functional, particularly by outsiders. As Sweden was in the vanguard of the Functional movement, this is, perhaps, not surprising. Many of the movement’s ideals can be recognised in the output of the IKEA furniture company, branches of which can be found all over the world.
Music forms a very important part of Swedish life, particularly singing, with nearly 7% of the population belonging to a choir. Participation in cultural activities is actively encouraged through government and local council grants to orchestras and so forth. Every single one of the twenty-five provinces boasts at least one chamber or symphony orchestra backed by the local council.
Swedes like festivals, and apart from the obvious ones of Easter and Christmas, to which they add their own special touches, they celebrate other occasions such as Lucia and Walpurgis Night. The Lucia festival takes place on December 13th and marks the life of a Sicilian girl who wanted to dedicate her life to God and not get married. When she spurned the advances of a nobleman, she was murdered and, subsequently, became a martyr. Walpurgis Night welcomes the return of springtime, and has been observed since the era of the Vikings.
Picture by Scanrail – Fotolia