Let me start with a riddle:
You can open and shut them. You can crank or hoist them up and down. They’re usually outdoors. They can be made of wood or aluminium. They vary in size. What can they be?
I’m talking about window shutters. The next question: how interesting can they be?
Well in France, all houses and apartments are fitted with shutters or blinds. They’re used in the winter to keep in the heat and in summer to keep it out. To immigrate to Sweden at the beginning of January was a challenge; winter had a firm grip on the country, the landscape was frozen still, the sun barely made it over the horizon and on a good day it might still be light at 2.30pm. The normal reflex for a French person coming home is to shut oneself in. But who stole the shutters? The realisation that they were missing was a terrible feeling. The need to shut out the cold and dark and to batten down the hatches to feel at home is an instinctive feeling in France.
And you wonder: What are Swedes thinking? How can all the houses be built so badly, at least according to French standards?
Of course not: Swedes are fantastic at decorating their homes with LOADS of lights, both candles and electric. These are hung in the windows which shuts out the dark while at the same time letting in the little natural light that is available. Making the most of light is so important all year round; if you live in Sweden, either as a Swede or French person, you can never get too much of it. In France, most houses have an outdoor terrace. By that I mean a single terrace. In Sweden, the desire for light is so great that houses are often surrounded by terraces in all directions so that you can move around, following the sun’s progress throughout the day. If it’s a little chilly but the sun in up, you simply wrap yourself in a blanket and sit outside. When the first spring sunshine arrives, you try to absorb all the warmth that is radiated. That’s when a very strange phenomenon occurs. In the middle of the street, outside shops, waiting for buses, sitting or standing, anywhere in fact where sunlight falls, Swedes stop, close their eyes and raise their faces towards the sun. Such fun to see!
From the first Sunday of Advent, the usual lights are replaced by Advent candles which festively light up all houses. Most people also decorate their gardens with electric string lights and various flashing Christmas decorations. Taking in this lovely sight on a walk is really heart-warming. It helps in deepest darkest December when it feels like the winter will never end.
But then I realise that the 21st December is the turning point and it will soon be lighter again.
A little about me
I moved to Sweden in 1992 with my then-fiancé. The plan was to be in Sweden for two years but life took a different turn and we ended up staying. I really like living in Sweden and have made a lot of great friends. I live in West Stockholm and have two children. Running, swimming, cycling, golf, skiing, cooking and spending time with family and friends is how I like to spend my free time.
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