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By Steve Kelman

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Here comes the sun — at 2 a.m.

Swedes are among the most climate-obsessed people on earth. The reason is not surprising: Sweden's location in the far north gives it enormous contrasts, in terms of temperature and amount of sun, during the different times of the year.

In mid-winter in Stockholm, the sun doesn't come up until 10 a.m., and it gets dark by about 2 p.m. Swedes spend their time in darkness, lighting the colored candles that are popular in Sweden and even celebrating a holiday where children go around with candle-studded wreaths (now generally electric light bulbs) on their heads. Swedes have long, cold winters that, depending on the year, go from early November through April — although global warming has made those winters less forbidding.

The reward for this cold gloom is the Swedish summer. This time of the year in Stockholm — the longest day of the year will be coming up June 21 — the sun goes down around 10 p.m. and is up again by 2 a.m. Often, as they have been during my visit, the skies are blue, the humidity is low, and the temperatures are in the low-to-mid 70's (about 22 degrees Celsius), sort of San Diego weather.

Not surprisingly, the Swedes worship this time of year. Midsummer, coming up next week, is one of Sweden's biggest holidays. This week in Stockholm, even in midweek, large crowds were out rambling through downtown late at night, just enjoying the bright evenings. (It is interesting to note that there are now also very large numbers of Asian tourists in Stockholm.)

On a recent afternoon, I was walking through the Royal Gardens, a small and popular park right in the center of Stockholm, only a block away from the bank where in the 1970s a number of hostage bank employees ended up identifying with their kidnappers, leading to the concept of the Stockholm syndrome. The weather was gorgeous, and the crowds were huge. I came upon two long lines. Coca-Cola had a little tent where they were handing out free mini-bottles of Coke in honor of the company's 125th anniversary (how many readers knew Coke was observing this historic milestone this year?) Only 20 feet away, there was another line, this one in connection with the 50th birthday of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, the American super-premium ice cream brand that made believe it was Scandinavian (Swedes have no idea, I don't think, that this false claim was ever even made) and is now owned by Switzerland-based Nestle. Interestingly, Haagen-Dazs, which was giving away free mini-cups of ice cream, had an even longer line than Coke.

This is also graduation time in Sweden. College graduations are actually no big deal here, but high school students have a very Swedish way of celebrating. There is no American-style school graduation ceremony with diplomas and valedictorian speeches. (Swedes know about these from American movies.) Instead, by tradition, parents come to their child's school and wait in the school yard for their students to come out, class by class, to the cheers of their parents, wearing special white (summer color, note) caps resembling sailor caps that go way back in Swedish tradition. (Swedish high school students major in one broad area, such as "science" or "humanities," and then have the same courses within their area, so a class of 25 or so students stays together for the entire three years of high school.)

In recent years, a new — and expensive — custom has grown up of each class renting a truck where there is room for all the kids to stand up in the open area of the back of the truck. The truck then slowly tools around, often going into the streets of downtown Stockholm, playing loud rock music and with the kids singing and pouring soda or beer on each other. Posters on the truck identify the class and often feature sayings or quotes, interestingly enough sometimes in English rather than Swedish. Kids then go home for a party with their parents and parents' friends/relatives, and finally off to party among themselves. Interestingly, while the liquor purchase age in Sweden is 20, it is not illegal to drink liquor in a home at a younger age.

Posted on Jun 16, 2011 at 12:09 PM

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