Let’s talk about summer in Sweden. The days are endless, the nights almost nonexistent, and everyone is on vacation. After a dark and grueling winter that seems to last nine months, suddenly the world is bright and warm(ish) and lush again. Swedes use this time to get out of the office and back into nature. For us, the Swedish summer has always felt like a dreamworld, an alternate universe where everything is exactly as it should be.
The dreamiest part of the Swedish summer is that nearly everyone takes an entire month off from work, usually the whole of July. School is out, and even daycare (dagis) shuts down for four weeks. What makes this extended summer vacation possible is a generous policy of paid leave. Workers in Sweden receive approximately thirty-five vacation days per year (in addition to more than fifteen public and floating holidays). Most people we know take at least four weeks off during the summer (and since most people we know are parents of young children, they use some of their remaining parental leave days to add another week–or more–to their vacation).
While some people do go on grand international holidays, a lot of people take a more modest vacation and slip off to the countryside, usually to an old family summer house (sommarhus). Some folks live on their boats for the season, skimming through the Stockholm archipelago or along the west coast. It’s worth noting that summer houses themselves tend to be modest, sometimes lacking a shower or even a flushing toilet. People don’t go to the countryside (or seaside) to live in luxury; they go to slow down, connect with friends and family, and enjoy the simple pleasures of the season –basking in the sun, splashing in the water, tinkering around the house and yard, and eating delicious food with loved ones. Forests in Sweden are teeming with wild berries–strawberries in early summer, blueberries and raspberries from mid-late summer–and we spend hours going on “blueberry walks” in July and August.
The defining feature of the Swedish holiday, what makes it an genuine vacation, is that no one is expected to work while they are away. This may come as a shock to many Americans, but it is generally accepted that you will NOT be checking email, answering phone calls, or writing reports while you are away. The purpose of a vacation is to rest, recuperate, reconnect with yourself and your family, and explore the world–NOT to stay chained to a job and its stresses. Of course sometimes people do, but that’s often a matter of choice rather than necessity. (The last paragraph of this article made me laugh.) Here, it is seen as necessary to a person’s health–physical and psychological–to detach from work. The work-life balance in Sweden tends to be, well, balanced.
Isn’t that wonderful? It’s a necessary counterpoint to the winter here, with its unremitting darkness (the first winter we were, there were five hours of direct sunlight for the entire month of November!). People tend to hunker down at home and close off a bit, but when summer comes, everyone opens up.
What are summers like where you live? Are you able to take much time to be together as a family? Do you have any favorite summer family traditions? I’d love to know!
All images by me except the third and fourth; those are by Saltis77