Sweden’s National Day

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Ye auld, ye free, … Sweden’s National Day

National Day celebrations in Kungsträdgården, Stockholm Photo by Bengt Nyman
National Day celebrations in Kungsträdgården, Stockholm
Photo by Bengt Nyman


On June 6, 1523 AD, Gustav Eriksson Vasa was elected king of Sweden after having led an uprising to break the union between Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Even if the list of known Swedish monarchs begins with Ivar Vidfamne (Ivar Widefathom, 970 – 995 AD), Gustav Vasa is often regarded as the founder of Sweden, and June 6 is celebrated as the National Day of Sweden.

Compared to many other countries – e.g. the exuberant celebrations of Independence Day in the USA, or the Norwegians’ overwhelming joyfulness on Syttende Mai (May 17) – the celebrations on Sweden’s National Day may appear rather … how should I put it … neat and orderly. One reason for this is of course that June 6 didn’t become officially recognized as National Day until 1983 and didn’t get status of work-free holiday until 2005! That is, it hasn’t yet become a tradition, even if June 6 was named Svenska Flaggans Dag (the Swedish Flag’s Day) already in the early 19th century. Secondly, what happened 1523 AD is really rather remote and obsolescent to most Swedes. Still another reason can be the rather loose historical connection – Gustav Vasa’s Sweden included only 17 of today’s 24 Swedish provinces, leaving out seven of the most populous provinces.

When June 6 was officially declared as the National Day, many people in Sweden argued that midsummer’s eve would have been a better choice… and in reality, that’s when Swedes celebrate!

But of course, on June 6, there are parades, marching bands, and speeches by prominent people. The king and queen will take part in the celebrations in Skansen, the big museum/zoo/entertainment park in Stockholm, and the princes Carl Philip and Daniel will most likely appear on celebrations somewhere in the country, as well as the most popular member of the royal family, Crown Princess Victoria.

(But princess Madeleine will not participate this year: she’ll probably be busy trying out the trousseau for her wedding, which is scheduled to take place two days later. Or setting the table… I don’t know.)

King Carl XIV Gustaf and Queen Silvia (in traditional national dress) arrive to celebrations in Skansen Park on the Swedish National Day 2009; a military band stands in attention. Photo by Bengt Nyman
A military band stands in attention as King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia (in traditional national dress) arrive to celebrations in Skansen Park, Stockholm, on the Swedish National Day 2009.
Photo by Bengt Nyman


This is also the solemn occasion when new Swedish citizens receive their certificate of citizenship and are welcomed in Sweden by the king. (In most towns, this ceremony will of course be performed by the mayor or some other prominent person – we just don’t have enough royalties for every township.)

What about the headline? ”Ye auld, ye free…”? Well – that’s my flatfooted translation of the lyrics of the national hymn. It is quite unique and remarkable as a national hymn because it doesn’t contain the name of the nation, i.e. the word Sweden, or Swedish at all. It goes like this:

Ye auld, ye free, ye mountain-high North,Ye silent, ye glorious and pretty!

I love thee, ye fairest of lands on earth,

Your sun, your skies, your meadows green.

Du gamla, du fria, du fjällhöga Nord,Du tysta, du ärorika, sköna!

Jag älskar dig, vänaste land uppå jord,

Din sol,din himmel, dina ängder gröna!

We’re Swedish, and we’re proud of it. We just don’t want to boast about it.

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