Trettondagsafton = the afternoon of the 13th day (also known as Twelfth Night)
Yesterday was Twelfth Night, and today is the Epiphany. I'll give a nod to the religious nature of the day for some by posting a picture of the church we went to today (for an organ concert- see below).
I expected many things from living in Sweden, but not learning as much as I am about Christian holidays. I missed writing a post about St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26th). I have written my perspective on Santa Lucia- I'll get around to posting it at some point. I also can't explain the amount of time I've spent trying to figure out when the kids might (or might not) have school (hint-- no school today, or tomorrow).
Yesterday was Twelfth Night, referring to the end of the 12 days of Christmas. Twelfth night (trettondagsafton) meant businesses shut down early and people celebrated (many by going to the movies, apparently, as that is what we did. Finally saw the newest Star Wars film. I've not enjoyed going to films in the US lately but actually enjoyed the theater yesterday- reserved seats, reasonable volume, and a campy feel like theaters used to have).
Today, 6 January, is the Epiphany, the day when the Magi actually visited the babe in the manger and a manifestation of God in person. It is fairly widely celebrated in a number of countries, including Sweden. At least here, the Epiphany seems to be a mix of traditional practices mixed with secular "I get a day off work or school."
Traditionally, "[a]ccording to Swedish folklore, the dead came visiting from their graves for Christmas and had to return on the 6th of January. Most of these traditions went to their graves during the 19th century, too. Today the only one remaining is, perhaps, the so-called julgransplundring (a children’s party at which the Christmas tree was stripped of its decorations, which in the old days consisted of apples, candy and other edibles). 'But on the island of Möja, it’s just like old times. They sing medieval songs and walk around with a great, shining star,” Kättström Höök explains. Stjärnsångare, Singers to the star, on Möja dress up similar to the star boys of Lucia or the lussegubbar of west Sweden of olden times." Lussegubbar were those who did pranks, dressed up as what we're still not sure.
We knew about 6 January as a special ice skating day, as the City of Stockholm has been advertising it since November when our nearby free public outdoor ice rink opened (with refrigeration coils-- it's not been cold enough around here to freeze ice naturally). We've been skating quite a bit but ventured over to see what might be happening. There must have been a thousand or more people there today- skating on all manner of skates, ranging from toddlers to grandparents and everything in between. They had a number of stations set up: learn to speed skate, figure skate, play ice hockey, play bandy ball, ring ball, and a number of other ice-based games we've never heard of. Absolute chaos but absolutely entertaining and fun.
Our new family favorite game: "ringette." Elizabeth is ready to try out for the team- played with a ring and sticks (think of a hockey stick, take the curved section off), chase the ring around.
We did celebrate in more formal fashion by seeking out an organ concert at a nearby church. Not as impressive as some of the organ concerts Chris or I have heard, but still quite something!
I continue to be left trying to sort out the difference between holidays and flag days (officially designated days when the buses have flags on them-- maybe there is more to it than that). The kids have a number of "röd dags" (red days) off from school- some sort of special holiday. They mostly seem to fall in May- perhaps a good time to celebrate being outside?
Anyway, if you somehow feel compelled to muddle through this, I'd recommend the helpful wikipedia page on Swedish holidays. I'm still figuring out what 13th of January actually is as a holiday...