The Swedish Crayfish Party (kräftskiva)

2011-05-09. Published in Language & Culture
by Nils Pasi

Mai, who wrote weekly articles for us during her exchange year in Gothenburg last year, ended one of her later articles by writing how she wished that she would have the opportunity to attend a traditional Swedish crayfish party before leaving at the end of July. I do not know if she did see her wish come true, but I do agree with her that crayfish parties are a great Swedish end-of-summer tradition that you should not miss if given the opportunity to attend. Unfortunately, it is, as previously mentioned, an 'end-of-summer- tradition, which could make it difficult for those of you who are leaving early to experience. That is why we decided to republish this article already in May, to give everyone the chance to read abut this tradition and maybe make arrangements to experience an 'early' crayfish party before heading back.

On the choice of Crayfish
A crayfish party is called ‘kräftskiva’ in Swedish, and of course it involves eating crayfish. During the crayfish-party season, Swedish news papers and evening papers will put together lists with the best to worst crayfish brands every year to help the consumers in their endeavours to find the very best out there (not to mention to boost sales of the papers). But to keep things simple, there are basically to varieties of crayfish, although I expect experts would disagree with me on that. There are the crayfish that live in lakes, and there are the ones that live in the sea. Opinions on which type is the best differs, although personally I would only take the lake dwellers over the sea dwellers if there were no sea crayfish left. The latter ones are simply that much better! (I say boldly, expecting lots of critical comments...).

On the importance of paper lanterns
As tasty as crayfish may be – and believe me, they are very tasty indeed! – crayfish alone do not make a party. For it to be a proper crayfish party, there should be paper lanterns, typically in the shape of the sun with eyes, nose and a big mouth. Because the party is traditionally held at the end of the summer, in August or September, the idea is that it should be an outdoors party. Unfortunately, the Swedish weather does not always allow that, and thus we have all these stories, ranging from funny to outright sad, about paper lanterns catching fire, or the lines upon which they hang catching fire, or the curtains close to where they hang catching fire, or something else nearby catching fire.

Now, there are different solutions to this unfortunate ‘catching fire’ problem, like going electrical, but the bottom line is that the paper lanterns are essential to a good cray fish party. Consider my family's solution to the ‘catching fire’ problem, and how it effectually ruined the whole thing: In the beginning, there was fire. Burnt lanterns and lines forced a resolution. But instead of going electrical or hiring a fireman, we simply stopped lighting the lanterns, and soon we stopped putting them up, and now we have even stopped having crayfish parties altogether!

On the singing traditions at crayfish parties
Had anyone asked me a year ago, I would have said: ‘Rubbish! We don’t sing at crayfish parties.’ As it happens, ‘Rubbish! I don’t sing at crayfish parties’ would have been more accurate, had it not been for the fact that I do sing at crayfish parties. But I do not sing because it is a cray fish party; I sing at all parties. The point, though, is that there are indeed crayfish songs. Mai first pointed this out to me with her article last season, and today I actually happened to see a crayfish party song book at the local grocery store. Apparently the melodies are from well known songs, but the lyrics have been rewritten to better fit in with the crayfish party spirit. Because I have never actually sung crayfish party songs at a crayfish party, or anywhere else for that matter, I cannot comment on its importance to a good crayfish party, but singing is always fun, so why not?

On the closing of an article about crayfish parties
Lastly, I would like to address the closing of an article about crayfish parties. How do you traditionally end an article about crayfish parties? Well, this is the very first time I write one, but I believe that the establish tradition here on, as established by Mai at the end of last season, is to end it with a wish. Being Swedish, I will of course not return to Japan at the end of July, and since it is September, it would be rather silly to wish for something to happen at the end of a month that has already past, unless I want to wait another year. Nonetheless, it would be awfully nice to attend a crayfish party this year. So, I really do hope that you who read this and I will both have to opportunity to experience this great Swedish tradition before the end of the month!

/Nils, team 2010-2011