Friday, February 13, 2015

Swedish Holidays: Alla Hjärtans Dag (Valentine's Day)

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. It’s my favorite day of the year because I am a hopeless romantic and a strident capitalist. Or something like that. What better way than to smush two worldviews together and enjoy a pink and red day of chocolate and flowers?

You may be surprised to know, that Valentine’s Day is not high on my personal rankings of holidays. It falls somewhere between Buy Nothing Day on November 29 and International Kissing Day on July 6. These are real things by the way. But what I’m trying to say here, in a forced attempt at being creative or funny, is that I don’t put much stock in Valentine’s Day. I’m ok with that.

A lot of Swedes don’t put much stock in it either. Although, that has been changing a bit over the years. Valentine’s Day makes its first appearance in Sweden in 1956. That means that my dad is older than Swedish Valentine’s Day. If you’ve ever wondered about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day in the US, you’ll be happy to know that in Sweden that’s where it all started. 1956. NK. Nordiska Kompaniet. They put up some signage advertising the holiday. Suddenly, Valentine’s Day in Sweden was born.

Look at all that text! 
Reading must have been easier back then.
"Nu på torsdag alla hjärtans dag"
NK-advertisement from Dagens Nyheter.
February 11, 1957. 
From Nordiska museet's clippings collection.
"Borrowed" from this site: Alla hjärtans dag.
In 1957, a year later, they published an ad in Dagens Nyheter explaining why they did it. And doubling down on the holiday by offering several heart-shaped items for purchase. Don’t forget to pick up your heart-shaped soaps and box calf cigarette cases. Nothing says I love you like soap and dead calves.

It’s kind of a fascinating advertisement for a variety of reasons. NK explains they thought it would be a good idea to introduce the holiday in 1956 because 1956 was a leap year. That’s all it took. They also note that the holiday is a lustig American holiday. Lustig is a tricky word. It can mean funny. Amusing. It can also mean strange or peculiar. I’ll let you decide what they’re going for here. All I know is, they clearly thought it was worth their while to advertise the holiday again.

It actually took a few years for the holiday to catch on and it wasn’t until the 1960s that Swedes began celebrating alla hjärtans dag. According to Svensk Handel, in 2012, about 56% of Swedes celebrate. Last year, again according to Svensk Handel, chocolate sales saw a 90% increase on Valentine’s Day compared to a normal day. I’d like to point out that tomorrow is Saturday, which means everyone will buying candy anyway. It’s like the perfect storm. But we all know that it’s not just chocolate. There are the flowers!

Giving flowers as gifts confuses me a bit. They wilt so quickly. I think I like full-on plants better. They last longer. Like my love for you. But maybe I just think that because I can only remember receiving flowers once in my entire life. It was actually on a Valentine’s Day. In Sweden. It was nice. This year, Blomsterbranschen is expecting about 4.5 million roses to be sold this year. That’s one rose for every other person in the entire country. Don’t worry though, for those of you who don’t receive a rose, tulips and carnations are gaining in popularity as well.

Today, the holiday is especially popular in school with cards and flowers. This seems dangerous to me. This seems like a recipe for hurt feelings and awkward confessions. This is where the popular kids get physical manifestations of their popularity and the not-popular kids get to see their lack of popularity in flower form. Maybe that’s what a primary education is for—hurt feelings, awkward confessions, and the occasional standardized test. Ladies and gentlemen… your public school system!

Anyway, if you’re feeling 56% Swedish this Valentine’s Day, buy some roses, some chocolate, maybe some red gummy hearts and take your love out to dinner. Then, when the credit card statement comes, curse NK. It’s totally their fault.

Welcome to Sweden. Happy Valentine’s Day.

If you want more stats, check out Svensk Handel 2012; Svensk Handel 2015; and if you just want more information, check out Alla hjärtans dag from Nordiska museet.

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