Saturday, March 28, 2009

Moving to Sweden – Public Holidays

Sweden is a country that prides itself on vacation days. Most people start off with about 25 days of vacation each year. That’s five weeks of vacation. The US has about two weeks. Sweden also has a work week that tends to be described as 37.5 hours. The US has a 40 hour work week. Just one of the differences when moving to Sweden. Especially for an American moving to Sweden. Which is just another reason to write a continuation of the Moving to Sweden series. Be sure to check out other instant classics like:

Moving to Sweden – What to Bring
Moving to Sweden – The Swedish Language
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Place to Live
Moving to Sweden – The Metric System and You
Moving to Sweden – Getting a Cell Phone
Moving to Sweden – Getting from the Airport to Stockholm City
Moving to Sweden – The Weather
Moving to Sweden – Swedish Citizenship Test
Moving to Sweden – Finding a Job
Moving to Sweden – Culture Shock: It's the Little Things
Moving to Sweden – Making Friends
Moving to Sweden – Cost of Living
Moving to Sweden – The Laundry Room
Moving to Sweden – Marijuana
Moving to Sweden – Most Common Jobs and Salaries

If you’ve already managed to move to Sweden and to find a job in Sweden, you’ve probably begun enjoying the benefits of all those vacation days. Working here, I can’t complain too much at all. Sometimes it’s a bit of a pain in the ass in the middle of July and August when everyone is on vacation. But you get by. And when you’re working, you definitely get by. Because everyone loves vacation.

Along with all of the vacation time, Sweden has a lot of public holidays. However, having moved here I still struggle with figuring out when those days are. They are referred to as red days. Red because they are printed red on the Swedish calendar. It’s a very visible reminder. But unless you’re staring at a Swedish calendar, it’s not always easy to figure out what days are public holidays. Days when you just don’t need to go to work.

Quite a few of these days are religious holidays. Which makes no sense in a country that is considered to be one of the most secular countries in the world. And not only are they religious holidays, but they are somewhat obscure religious holidays. Like the day of the Ascension. Kristi Himmelfärdsdag. The sixth Thursday after Easter. Obviously.

Sundays are always considered red days. Every Sunday on the calendar is marked in red. So Easter Sunday is a red day from a couple different angles.

There are also days referred to as klämdagar. Squeeze days. These are days that fall between a public holiday and a weekend. For example, this year Trettondedag Jul fell on a Tuesday. So Monday was a squeeze day. Check with your employer but a lot of places of employment will turn this into a half day.

This half-day policy is also common for Eve days. Christmas Eve for example. Or New Years Eve. Again, probably a good idea to check before you just bail early.

So with all that in mind, and the slight embarrassment of me requesting a day off on a day that was already a public holiday still fresh in my mind, I’ve put together a list of all of the public holidays in Sweden for the year 2009. Because some holidays change. Like Good Friday. And the aforementioned Kristi Himmelfärdsdag.

January – Thursday, January 1st is Nyårsdagen. New Years Day. Tuesday, January 6th is Trettondedag jul. The Epiphany.
February – Nothing. Sorry. The Swedes don’t celebrate American Presidents.
March – Still nothing.
April – Friday, April 10th is Långfredagen. Good Friday. Monday, April 13th is Annandag Påsk. Easter Monday.
May – Friday, May 1st is Första Maj. May Day or International Worker’s Day. The International Worker’s Day was the day that left me a bit red in the face. Thursday, May 21st is Kristi Himmelsfärdsdag. The Day of the Ascension.
June – Saturday, June 6th is Sveriges Nationaldag. The Swedish national day. Think 4th of July but without the celebration of independence and the Constitution. Saturday, June 20th is Midsommardagen. Midsummer.
July – It is the middle of summer… did you expect more red days?
August – Nothing.
September – Nothing. Again.
October – Saturday, October 31st is Alla Helgons dag. All Saints’ Day.
November – Just a rough month in general. It gets darker, colder, and no days off.
December – Friday, December 25th is Juldagen. Christmas Day. Saturday, December 26th is Annandag Jul. Boxing Day.

Welcome to Sweden. And the beauty of working in the Swedish system.

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  1. Hi Hairy Swede! I am a high schooler in the US and I want to apply to Swedish universities when I'm a senior. Do you suggest I do this? Do I have to be fluent in Swedish? Will I have to pay tuition (I don't mind if I have to but I know it's free for Swedes?)

    Do you think I could learn Swedish in 2 years and become fluent by the time I apply to Swedish colleges? (Seriously, don't laugh at me. I love Sweden)

    You're awesome, by the way! I love reading your blog and reading your humorous/unique perspective on Swedish ways.

  2. Firstly, just like everyone else - I think you blog is hilarious! Way to go! Secondly, I'm an american citizen and I would like to move to Sweden and live/work there for about a year. I have a good friend who lives in Sweden and he is willing to help me out until I get set up on my feet. I know you are an American and Swedish citizen but I was wondering if you could tell me anything about passports, visa's etc. that I would need to legally be able to enter, work and reside in sweden while remaining an American citizen.


  3. Hmmm, you guys don't have quite as many days off as you first gave me the impression of!

    But is it absolutely required for all employees to have these days off? Or is it just a guideline?

  4. It's important that you don't get the impression that we Swedes aren't that hard-working. After all, we are still Lutheran. The Swedes, however, isn't really focused on their career. We don't really want to be big shot lawyers, politicians or something similar. Most of us would rather work as an average Joe. I guess the Swedish dream is to get a house somewhere and form a family.

  5. Actually Valborg is the 30th of April, but it isn't a red day.

  6. Anonymous:
    You don't need to know Swedish before going to a Swedish University AFAIK. But, the available classes might be limited. At least at the University I attended they had special classes for non speaking students and some of the regular classes were also held only in English.

    So it depends. I suggest you check with the university you want to attend.

    Regarding the language, after living in Japan for some time now I realized that English and Swedish is very common. You should be able to speak acceptably in two years if you just put in some effort. Try to not fall in to the trap that most people speak English and very easily fall over if you start using English when you don't know the correct Swedish.

  7. @Hairy - Thanks for this one. I have a feeling I'll be referring back to this page. And doesn't red symbolize stopping? Stopping work, whatever. It's a good color for not working I think.

    @anon - I don't think Swedes are lazy. But I do realize they don't chase the same level of fortune and "success" as most Americans. And I LOVE Sweden for this. I don't think it's lazy. It's good priorities. I am glad to move here largely for that reason.

  8. as far as i know most people still have 40 hour work weeks, but i could be wrong. i'm also curious... how many holidays do the americans have? you make it sound like there is a huge difference and maybe i'm spoiled but it doesn't feel like we have that many. i know the fall could use a couple of holidays to lighten things up. the period between august and december is no fun at all with the darkness and all.


  10. There is also PINGST/Whitsun. And they took away Annandag Pingst in favour of 6th of June, the national day.

  11. I don't think Sweden has too many more red days than America. We have several although it really depends on your employer a lot more. We have Christmas, New Year, Easter, Memorial Day (May), 4th of July, Labor Day (Sept.), Thurs and Fri off for Thanksgiving (Nov), then there is Martin Luther King Day (Feb) for government workers and banks, plus Presidents Day. But the big thing is Swedes get several more weeks of vacation time each year. Which amounts to much more time off. Plus Americans often work way more than 40 hours if they are in certain careers. Actual most professional careers. It is expected especially when you are just starting. You have to "work your way up and earn respect"

  12. @anonymous – to be perfectly honest, in my limited experience with higher education in Sweden, I haven’t been horribly impressed. That being said, I only spent one semester in Uppsala, and then have taken a couple of classes here in Stockholm since moving. Most Americans I talk with about schools are in masters programs. Some really like them. Some really don’t. The system is just different from that in the US. But if youre coming over here without any other US university experience you might be better off. A clean slate if you will.

    I just think that the Swedish university education is a bit easier. That being said (again), the system has been changing in the last couple of years since I was in Uppsala with grading and how students are evaluated so it might be a lot better.

    In the end though, from an experience point, I would definitely suggest it. It’s a great experience, and theres definitely something to be said for that.

    Paying for school basically just comes down to rent and books and all of that good stuff. Regardless f where you come from if youre attending a publicly funded university like Uppsala, Stockohlm, or Lund.

    In terms of being fluent in Swedish, I’m not entirely how it works for undergrad. Schools throughout Sweden offer a lot of graduate programs that are taught in English but I’m not sure about undergrad. From what I know, most undergrad programs are taught in Swedish.

    Learning Swedish can be tough. But depending on your language skills you could get a damn good grasp of Swedish in two years. Whether you could get a good enough grasp to be able to function at a university level probably depends a lot on you.

    Hopefully that helps a little bit, maybe not the most inspiring answers to your questions. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you want. ASwedishAmericaninSweden at gmail dot com.

    @Amberly – thanks! I appreciate it. The visa and work permit thing is tricky. Just because they are hard to get a hold of. Student visas tend to be the easiest way to go. Check out for all kinds of good information on what it takes to move to Sweden.

    @jessy – well the public holidays aren’t that many. It’s the extra weeks of vacation that puts it over the top.

    Public holidays are the equivalent of bank holidays or federal holidays in the US I suppose. So some places, like grocery stores, will be open, but for the most part, there’s no one working.

    @anonymous – its true. That Lutheran work ethic does sometimes shine through. Especially in the construction business. I swear, those guys are up working at like 4 in the morning. Since my mom reads this, I obviously have never been out wandering around at 4 in the morning without good reason.

    I think you nailed it though that the striving for a better position in their careers is something that most Swedes don’t focus on.

    @fredrik – well, I think valborg is actually the 1st and it is valborgsmässoafton is on the 30th. But youre absolutely right that it is not a red day. Not realy sure what happened there. Must have got carried away writing this. I’ve updated it since reading your comment. Thanks.

    @nevil – good work on that helping out the first commenter on this post.

    Also a good call on the language thing. Since so many people speak English here it is very easy to fallback to your English skills. Don’t. Be stubborn. It will be worth it.

    @m8surf – no problem, hopefully it will help a little bit. After being horribly embarrassed about asking for a day off that was already a day off I figured someone else might find this stuff useful.

    And you’re right about red. I’ll buy that argument.

    @anonymous – Americans have a few days off. I think it usually ends up being about 10 (New Years, Martin Luther King Jr., Presidents, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas). But the real kicker is the extra weeks of vacation that Swedes get. That’s where they really pull away from the Americans.

    And I agree, I do enjoy the Thanksgiving day off in the US, it comes at a good time in the year for a day off. That’s something Sweden could use. Not Thanksgiving obviously, but a day off somewhere there in the middle of November. Because the coming darkness and cold just kind of sucks in November.

    @anonymous – very helpful. Good call.

    @Rebekah – yeah Annandag Pingst just changed pretty recently I think. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that it stopped being a red day?

    @m8surf – damn. That’s a good answer. I read through these from top to bottom and answer so Im just going to leave my answer as is. Clearly great minds think alike. Or something like that.

  13. It was a 40-hour week in Sweden. We Finns have 37,5 working hours. And remember also Christmas eve and Midsummer night's eve, they are both paid vacations although not marked in red. Both in F and S.

  14. Everything is now about working hours per week, vacation days per year, and so on.
    It is about what you achieve when actually working.

    I don't know about the US since I never lived there, but I have lived in Japan for more than 2 years and also worked a lot here the 3 years before that.

    Japanese people are known to work hard. But, in my view, they are not very efficient. Due to the culture they don't take long vacations. And in my view many people get more tired because of this.

    I felt that my colleagues in Sweden was more productive and efficient and could produce the same result in 8 hours that here takes much longer.

    I also believe that people need long vacations (at least 3 weeks in a row) to be able to refresh the brain to come back and do good work (I'm an engineer. I often feel my brain needs a reset)

    So the work ours doesn't always relate to the outcome.

  15. I guess you could also add that every 12th grader or below, gets quite alot of free time aswell(skipping summer/christmas, there is like 3 more weeks spread out.) Even if they arent exactly working.
    Sportholidays etc.

  16. sportlov/påsklov + att jag har för mig att vi alltid hade en vecka i början av våren, runt vecka 7.

  17. @nevil - Now that's what's up. Totally agree.

  18. I really think we need those holidays/breaks in the states because a lot of people here have to work on holidays even if they want to take off.

  19. Thank you very much I will definitely look into it! However, a student visa - I'm a student here in the USA, but I don't think I plan on studying in Sweden because wouldn't it be very, very expensive (I would be an international student, yes?)

  20. @smek – good call on the eves. Especially Christmas Eve since that is really the day that most Swedes celebrate Christmas.

    @nevil – Ill agree with the idea that its what you get done now how much you work. Working too much but not doing so effectively worthless. Ineffective some might say. Kind of the whole sound and fury signifying nothing idea.

    And in terms of vacation, I definitely think a vacation now and then is good.

    Honestly, I don’t think it is necessary to have long stretches of vacation. Im all for taking a long weekend here and there. And with all of the Swedish vacation you could take a long weekend just about every other week. It might not be the most popular thing to do with your employer though.

    @anonymous – yeah school kids seem to get all kinds of extra vacation.

    @anonymous – these aren’t necessarily red days though, although it is pretty impressive how many Swedes take time off around these weeks.

    @m8surf - indeed. Just so you don’t think I forgot about you.

    @anonymous – I suppose it really depends on what industry you work in, where you work. But youre right, a lot more things are open in the US that are considered holidays than in Sweden.

    @amberly – school is basically free in Sweden. Even if youre an international student. So youd have to pay for books, housing and all of that good stuff but no real tuition.

  21. *Ahem*

    Hairy Swede said: "school is basically free in Sweden."

    Maybe you forgot a word or two there? Perhaps you intended to slip in "tuition" between the words "basically" and "free"?

    Either way, I wouldn't bet on the Swedish taxpayers being willing to continue to foot the bill for students from other countries. I can't actually remember ever having spoken with anyone who's been in favor of paying for foreigners education in Sweden. Mind you, since I tend to make my views rather clear, I suspect that affects what others say in the same discussion but...

  22. come on now jacob, the rest of my comment says that.

    but youre right, I dont understand at all why the swdes are willing to pay for international students to go to school. especially when they often make it really hard for those same students to get jobs here.

    so the country pays for their eduation and then send them away so the country gets none of the benefit.

  23. Actually, my beef was with the word "free". "Tuition free" means that there's no tuition. "Free" means that there's no cost. School in Sweden is basically funded through our taxes - it is not basically free. I have read enough of your blog to know that you do realize this. It may seem like I'm nit picking but I do feel that it's important to use words that give a correct description of what takes place in situations like this. Too many people have heard the word Free so many times that they no longer reflect on the fact that someones paying. In this country, way WAY too many people think that "free" = no one's paying.

    I really don't like it that when international students think of studying in Sweden, they think of "free education". I don't like it when think of Sweden and they think of "free health care." Sweden's a beautiful Lady but her reputation is that she's easy. Sweden should attract with her beauty, brains and personality, not with a rep for being easy and cheap.

    Your last sentence also brings up a key point for me. Tax funded education is about investment in the population. Politicians sometimes talk as if the government has money that is somehow separated from the money that belongs to the taxpayers. Former PM Göran Persson even managed to make it sound like he was being generous with his very own money. All the governments assets belong to the taxpayers. All the governments liabilities as well. Looking at it like that, I really do not feel that the Swedish government has any right give any of that money away to other countries or people in other countries unless it is somehow beneficial to the Swedish taxpayers. Charity is a private affair. Giving away what does not belong to you is theft.

  24. should charge international students extra like they do out of state students in US universities

  25. In some areas we actually need foreign students. I think dentists and doctors. Some of them choose to stay and work after.

    If they have to pay I doubt they will come.

    But maybe it is possible to find a different system through stipends or other kind of funding to cover

  26. We need medical doctors and dentists - there's no shortage of actual students in these educations in Sweden. Not even a perfect grade is enough to guarantee that you're admitted to study to become a medical doctor in Sweden. Quite a few Swedes actually study at medical schools in other countries because of this. It's not quite as hard to get admitted to study to become a dentist, but there's certainly enough Swedes to fill the slots. We need more slots to fill, not foreign students to fill them.

    Regarding recruiting medical doctors and dentists abroad - I'm torn. Rarely do these doctors come from e.g. the USA. Draining less wealthy countries of their trained medical professionals doesn't feel quite right to me. Down right immoral actually.

    I recommend the article below for an example of this.

  27. @jacob – well, that’s true. And I’ve nitpicked on that point plenty of times in terms of health care in Sweden being described as free. So youre absolutely right.

    But if youre an international student chances are you aren’t paying taxes in Sweden. So it is free. Which blows my mind still. I just don’t understand it. But I love your analogy.

    You bring up some interesting points, but regardless of the decision to give money, the thing that I don’t understand is once you give the money why you don’t try to get a return on that money. It seems like it would be something that would be easy to fix. That being said, the US does the exact same thing. But at least they are usually getting a little bit of money off the students before they educate them and send them away.

    @anonymous – I’ll agree with that.

    @nevil – I think a lot more would be willing to stay but Sweden seems to make it very tough for foreign students to stick around and work afterwards. Which is strange considering the investment in foreign students and them not trying to get any return on that investment. That’s just bad business.

    @jacob – oooh, Ive never really thought of that. Very cool. Or maybe cool I the wrong word. Interesting? Thought provoking? Either way, I like it.

  28. 37,5 hours of work every week. That's just not true. I don't know anyone (employed) that work less than 40 hours.

  29. 37.5 is the average. I myself never managed to work less than 40 hours a week. But on average, it is 37.5 hours.

  30. I "stumbled upon" this blog. I must say, all contributors kept me on board until I nearly fell asleep. No! Not from boredom at all! I have always, for some reason, been intreguiged by this beautiful Lady of a country called Sweden. She stands tall, proud and healthy in my mind. You all gave me more information on this land and her people than any other I have come across. I want to say I appreciate your time, energy and above all your honesty. THAT is what I seek when prodding for information on a subject. You filled that of which I sought to find. Thank you all and, please, BLOG ON!

  31. The 37.5 hours is a Stockholm thing, the rest of the country work 40 hours :)

    1. Let's not forget about the 30-hour workweek down in Göteborg for some workers.