22 Jun 2024
Swedish Traditions – May: Protests and Pop Music
Community Swedish Culture

Swedish Traditions – May: Protests and Pop Music

May marks two bank holidays, one political and one religious in nature, but you don’t need to be devout or a protester to enjoy the pleasure of two days off work! Arguably more popular than either celebration is the chance to cheer on Sweden as it gets ready to host the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö.


Första maj: Wednesday 1st May

Första_maj_1917 (3)
Första maj demonstration for peace: 1917

In consequence of a decision, unanimously adopted at the International Labour Congress held in Paris, we have today, on May 1st, 1890, as the whole of Europe and America class-conscious proletariat, gathered for a global demonstration of the statutory eight-hour workday.

Words taken from the very first Första maj demonstration

Since the 1890s, crowds have gathered in central Stockholm to take part in demonstrations, hear political speeches and protest for change in working conditions. Times have changed since 50,000 people came to Gärdet, but political fervour has not abated, as you may witness for yourself if you decide to attend one of the meetings. In 1939, when the flavour of demonstrations was very much a national one, the government acknowledged the importance of  första maj by making it a public holiday.

In Stockholm, Socialdemokraterna (the Social Democratic Party), traditionally marches towards Norra Bantorget, home to the headquarters of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, while Vänsterpartiet (the Left Party) marches towards Kungsträdgården. If you’re not too hung over from the Valborg celebrations the night before, do check out what is on the political agenda on the big day.


Kristi himmelsfärds dag: Thursday 9th May

Ascension Day (the 6th Thursday after Easter) is celebrated in the Christian calendar as the day when Jesus appeared before the eleven apostles and was taken up to heaven. It is also known as betessläppningen (the ‘turning out’), named for the time when the cows are let out to pasture after the winter and Folknykterhetens dag (People’s Sobriety Day) since 1925. The latter is espoused byIOGT-NTO (the temperance organisation) who run a raft of activities around the date, including at Skansen in Stockholm.

The holiday always falls on a Thursday, allowing many Swedes to take Friday as a klämdag (squeeze-day) and have a four-day weekend. Nothing wrong with that!


Eurovision Song Contest 2013: Saturday 18th May

Taken from the Album Cover for ‘Waterloo’, Abba’s Eurovision winning entry.


No-one living here would deny that this is a Swedish tradition, particularly when it’s being hosted in Malmö, following the success of Euphoria performed by Loreen in 2012. in case you’ve been living under a rock, Eurovision is a popular song competition, where different member countries of the European Broadcasting Union each submit a song to be performed on live television and radio; they then cast votes for the other countries’ songs. Sweden is one of Eurovision’s most successful countries, having won the contest five times over five decades (1975, 1985, 1992, 2000, 2013).

2013 sees former winners and ABBA stars, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, providing a piece of unique piece of music for the contest called, We Write the Story. This year, Robin Stjernberg (chosen by the nation’s public in the highly enjoyable national song contest, Melodifestivalen) will represent Sweden with the song, YouTune in to SVT1 at 9pm to cheer him on, or vote for your favourite European country/song.


Photo Credit: Klaus Hiltscher

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