When you talk to people about Sweden – and Scandinavia – they often respond with some of the negative ideas that they may have about the area … “Isn’t it really cold”, “Aren’t the winters always dark”, “Is there much to do in the winter time?”
Of course, here in Skåne we only represent 3% of the total area of Sweden as a whole, and as the southernmost region of this vast country, what happens in Skåne will be quite different to the far North. But many things that are intrinsically Swedish will be found, wherever you visit, in this beautiful country.
So in reply, to question number 1, No!
We often have mild winters with warm, sunny – but can be windy – springtime and regularly experience summer days of temperatures in the high 20’s and often 30C. Autumn is usually very warm, and so picturesque. Swimming temperatures in the water at our local lake hover around 23C on average in summer. Here we are warmed by the Gulf Stream, and protected by land masses of Denmark, the northern coastline of Europe and Finland in the east.
Question number 2 – “Aren’t the winters always dark?” again is a No, absolutely not here in Skåne! We are the southernmost county, so on a par with the rest of Europe, and in the absolute midwinter, darkness falls at around 4pm. But the fact that there are parts of Sweden for whom the residents don’t get any sun during the 3 winter months, it means that the rest of Sweden acts like it’s dark everywhere, and in solidarity with their Northern fellows, will light up their homes and gardens accordingly. This smaller region of the Österlen launches the winter festivities with Österlen Lyser, a coming-together and celebration of illuminating the winter darkness, with the lighting of bonfires, braziers, lanterns and candles everywhere! There are hundreds of cosy events, big and small. scattered all across the towns and villages, with many artists’ studios, galleries, shops and restaurants opening late to welcome visitors and enjoy the companionship of gatherings in the dark. This follows just a few days after one of Sweden’s most moving traditions – All Saints Day. Families visit churchyards and burial grounds en masse, placing candles in memory of their relatives and friends who have passed. A graveyard full of thousands of small, flickering flames in the dark night on the first evening of November is a poignant, reflective and quietly beautiful sight. This time generally is also taken to mark the first days of Winter.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the theme of light is still very prevalent. With the marking of Advent, candles are lit every Sunday for the Christmas countdown, and the festival of Lucia on December 13th also heralds the coming of light, with white-clad girls wearing a crown of candles or bearing a solitary candle in procession with others enter to the sound of the Lucia song, itself an ode to darkness and light.
The night treads heavily
around yards and dwellings
In places unreached by sun,
the shadows brood
Into our dark house she comes,
bearing lighted candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia
With all homes, shops and municipal buildings lit by masses of lights, stars and candles throughout the winter months, it really is a magical time of year as the billions of points of light pierce the daily darkness. It is the polar opposite to Midsommar and should be welcomed, embraced and enjoyed for that very reason.
At the end of Winter we look forward to the coming of Spring, and usher it in with a rousing goodbye to the winter’s dark days & nights. The celebration of Valborgs has truly tangible Pagan roots, with the lighting of village bonfires across the country, where happy groups of friends and families gather for singsongs – and maybe a few snaps! The following day, May 1st, really does feel like the start of a new period in the calendar, as we notice the buds bursting on the May trees and shrubs and the gardens and countryside coming into bloom. Yet more pinpricks of bright white emerging from the dark stems.
With the love of traditions, the marking of the flow of the seasons and the embracing of the changes that each period brings, it is how we best survive the wintertime. Light masses of candles, wrap up warm and get outside, standing around a bonfire or with the close companionship of others to warm the soul. See … the answer to the third question is a resounding yes! Experiences, holidays and life isn’t just about sunshine and beaches, it’s about enjoying everything that this wonderful region has to offer, the warmth of summer and the cold of winter, the long days around Midsummer with only a few hours of darkness and the shortest of winter days, with more darkness than light! Cosy cafes, streets a-glow with light and snuggling under blankets – and if you are lucky, a blanket of snow to create the perfect Winter light.