While Christmas is a quiet family affair in Sweden, New Year's Eve is celebrated with late-night partying and fireworks, including these over Stockholm's harbor. The open-air museum at Skansen has celebrated the event every year since 1895 and it is now carried live on Swedish television.
Stockholm – Been There

Building on the past for a national identity

Photo by Frank Chmura

Stockholm – Been There Building on the past for a national identity

Skansen, an open-air museum that uses 150 rescued buildings to tell the story of Swedish home life, design and culture, is on Djurgården island in central Stockholm.

Dan Hayes
Dan Hayes Travel Writer

Skansen is famous for its Christmas market, complete with carol singers and infused with the smells of gingerbread and glögg (mulled wine), but that is just one of the place’s many attractions – as the museum’s Christina Hamnqvist makes clear as we walk among building after building that has been transplanted lock, stock and barrel from across the country. “People come here to celebrate all the major festivals of the year, including Santa Lucia. We even invented the Swedish National Day,” she says.

We stop in a cobbled street, flanked by 19th-century town houses painted in warm shades of yellow and orange and with rough-hewn wooden shutters designed to shut out the worst of a northern winter and the excesses of summer light. “Visitors come here to connect with their past and understand their family history,” says Hamnqvist. “They can learn to renovate old windows, eat warm cinnamon buns directly from the oven in the bakery, greet the brown bears when they come out of hibernation, dress in period costume for the Autumn or Christmas markets, listen to concerts in the church, on the stage or in the houses themselves.”

We move on, via a shoe smith staffed by volunteers wearing period dress of white shirt, colorful waistcoat and cream stockings, past stilt-borne wooden storehouses and solid 18th-century farmhouses. The phrase stepping back in time was rarely more apt. Hamnqvist says: “In every open building and the area surrounding it you can take part in a moment in Swedish history from around the 17th century to the 1930s. You can learn about the way of life in the part of Sweden that the house represents. That includes farming techniques, crafts, clothing, traditions, music, fairy tales and many other aspects of life.”

We have arrived at what could perhaps lay claim to being a precursor – at least philosophically – of many of modern Sweden’s summer cottages. Painted in yellow and grey this version once belonged the Swedish intellectual and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg and it looks much like a particularly alluring version of a modern shed. Indeed, the great man’s use of the building – which was originally at the bottom of his large garden in Stockholm – would seem familiar to many men today. He would take himself off to it when he felt the need of a quiet hour or two to contemplate, away from the pressure of everyday life.

With a sense of historical accuracy, it is still flanked by plants that Swedenborg himself is believed to have cultivated, with roses, hyacinths and tulips that bloom in spring and summer. It is a backdrop that the great thinker might still find conducive to grappling with the intricacies of faith, nature and the human condition.

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Sweden's National Day, here being celebrated at Skansen by younger members of the royal family, is an important holiday when the national colors of blue and yellow are worn. It has been a tradition since 1916 for the King to present flags to various organisations and charities at Skansen to mark the day. Photo by Erhan Guener / Alamy

Erhan Guener

Erhan Guener

Agency
Alamy

Sweden's National Day, here being celebrated at Skansen by younger members of the royal family, is an important holiday when the national colors of blue and yellow are worn. It has been a tradition since 1916 for the King to present flags to various organisations and charities at Skansen to mark the day.

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