Valentine's Day in Sweden

2012-02-14. Published in Language & Culture
by Nils Pasi

Today is Valentine’s Day, and some of you may wonder what makes this day different from any other day. I’ve been told that in Japan, girls will give chocolate to boys that they’re interested in. One month later, on March 14th, the boys are expected to return the gesture, once again with chocolate. In Sweden we don’t have any such specific traditions. In fact, I would suspect that our Valentine’s Day differs little from Valentine’s Day in the US, as that is from where all the inspiration comes.

Before the 1960’s, few people took notice of Valentine’s Day, which in Sweden is known as ‘Alla Hjärtans Dag’ (the day of all hearts). It was commercial motives driven by the success in the US that changed all that, as companies started to produce heart-shaped sweets and other Valentine’s Day merchandise for the Swedish market. Still, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that Valentine’s Day was truly popularised in Sweden. Today, ‘Alla Hjärtans Dag’ is marked on all Swedish calendars, and although we have no strict traditions to observe, few people are ignorant of the special meaning of February 14th.

Watch the Wonder Host take on the subject of Valentine’s Day here:

What Swedes give away on Valentine’s Day
Of course, this is a day dedicated to love, so if something special is to be done, it should be romantic or a show of friendly affection. In stores you will find everything from heart-shaped sweets, to heart-shaped I-know-not-what. Basically, as long as it’s shaped like a heart, it’s good for Valentine’s Day. Many people buy something thus shaped, to give to a friend, a boy/girl friend, or someone they’re interested in. Apparently, stuffed bears carrying hearts are quite popular, although it remains unclear first and foremost why a bear would carry a heart, and secondly why it would be considered romantic – I rather wonder how he got hold of that heart, and given the claws...

Roses are also popular, although slightly complicated as so much can be said by the choice of colour. I won’t pretend to fully understand the subtle language of rose-colours, but apparently it’s quite versatile. Simply put, though:

  • Red = romantic

  • Pink = interest

  • Yellow = friendship

Note of caution: As romantic as ten roses may sound, it apparently suggests a marriage proposal.

What Swedes do on Valentines Day

Key-point: 'Be romantic, be creative!'

Most people work, as it’s not a national holiday, but if we for the sake of this article limit ourselves to things related to Valentines Day, dating and spending time with friends is quite common. It could be anything from a romantic dinner, to a ‘fika’ with one’s friends. Speaking of ‘fika’, though, I should take this opportunity to touch upon this typical Swedish behaviour in relation to dating.

'Fika' – a date or not?
First of all, Swedes are generally horrible at dating. In fact, it has been suggested that Sweden doesn’t have a dating culture as such, a point which I’m disposed to agree with. With that in mind, are you really being asked out on a date when someone asks you out for a ‘fika’, or is it simply a meeting between friends. Obviously, this is not an exact science, and nothing highlights that as successfully as some statistics that I stumbled upon a while ago. Basically, the Swedes who had participated in the survey, indicated that they often couldn’t tell if they were being asked on a date or not, and many of them didn’t know afterwards either.

The point, though, is that it’s perfectly normal for friends to go for a ‘fika’ in Sweden. Besides, even if the person who suggests it actually had meant for it to be a date, the survey results suggest that you’d never know about it anyway, so it’s hardly something to be concerned about. If you really want to know, ask – it’s the only way.

What not to do
If you want to show that you’re interested in someone, don’t go stand under her/his window and sing a serenade. I believe this tradition originated in Italy, and there’s good reason for it: It’s not fiendishly cold in Italy!

/Nils, team 2012