Ah, February, month of love. Where better to celebrate Valentine’s than in Stockholm with its beauty and romance? If this is making you queasy, ignore the 14th and find a better reason to feel nauseous: overindulgence in semlor. Those sweet buns stuffed with cream are the way that Swedes celebrate ‘Fettisdagen’ or Fat Day as it is not so euphemistically called. But before you dig out those waist-expanding jeans, use Sportlov, the half-term break, the way locals do and get some healthy winter sports in. Something for everyone this short month!
Like anyone faced with a prospect of fasting for forty days, Swedes binge 41 days before Lent. In England we do pancakes; here, they’re more sophisticated, indulging in a cardamom-spiced bun with its top cut off and its insides scooped out and replaced with almond paste and whipped cream. The original version was just a sweet roll in hot milk and indeed some Swedes do still have them served that way, known as hetvägg (loosely, hot wedges). The annual première of semla-eating has crept all the way to early January and since Swedes stopped observing traditional fasting, every Tuesday until Easter is considered a fettisdag. To be honest, every day is a fat day for me when there’s semlor around! We have a list of the top 5 places to get your semlor.
Alla hjärtans dag (Valentine’s Day): Thursday 14th February
Nothing is reliably known about the original Saint Valentine, but boy, did he leave his mark on the world. Although the 14th February was celebrated in English literature from the 1300s, it took about 600 years for it to catch on in Sweden. Even then, it was launched by people who wanted to sell chocolate hearts and flowers, notably the department store NK. Less cynically, it started to be celebrated in schools and took over Swedish hearts in the 1990s, especially with the young. Most people in Sweden go out for dinner or buy red roses for their loved ones, but look out for our Valentine’s special to add some wow-factor this 14th.
Originally devised as a way of saving on heating bills at schools during the war, Sportlov is a week long break for children, which was also embraced as a panacea from all the dreaded infectious diseases prevalent at this time of year. Children were packed off to enjoy the fresh country air, enjoy a break and do healthy winter sports. The most popular of these is skiing and in order not to overcrowd the resorts, Sportlov week is distributed between weeks 7 and 12 by different municipalities. Stockholms län traditionally has week 9 (25th February to 1st March this year) but some schools will offer flexibility in timings, so do check with your child’s school.
If you’re staying in Stockholm at this time, take the opportunity to try out one of many cool (pun intended) activities going on in town. We’ll have a special article dedicated to Sportlov coming soon.
Enjoy your February!