For members


Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in Sweden?

This year Thursday, May 9th, marks Ascension, making it a three-day week for the many workers in Sweden who take a 'klämdag' off on Friday and give themselves a four-day weekend.

Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in Sweden?
This could be you on Friday, if you took a so-called klämdag day off after Ascension Day. Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP/TT

Klämdag literally means “squeeze day” (klämma – to squeeze, and dag – day) and refers to the day that falls, or is squeezed, between a public holiday and a weekend.

Ascension, which Christians believe marks the day that Jesus ascended into heaven, is always 40 days after Easter Sunday, which means that its exact date varies from year to year. The earliest possible date is April 30th, and the latest possible date is June 3rd.

But why does Sweden give people a day off work on this day?

Ascension is actually a holiday in quite a few European countries – Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, France and the other Nordic countries get a day off, although Spain, Italy and the UK do not.

From the 12th century to the 16th, Sweden was a Catholic country. According to high school history teacher and tradition expert Mattias Axelsson, around a third of the days in the Middle Ages were public holidays. 

“With the exception of May 1st (Labour Day) and our National Day (June 6th), all public holidays go back to the Middle Ages,” he told The Local in 2021.

In Sweden, Ascension Day, known as Kristi himmelfärdsdag (literally: Christ’s journey to heaven day) or more colloquially Kristi flygare (Christ flying), has been celebrated since the mid 300s. The holiday originally celebrated around this time was betessläppningen, the day where cattle were let out to graze on pastures.

Since 1924 or 1925, it has been also been celebrated as the national day of sobriety by Swedish teetotallers.

Ascension was also historically seen as the first day of summer in some parts of Sweden, referred to as barärmdagen or “bare arm day”. It’s the first day of the year where women were allowed to go outside without their arms covered.

Gökottor used to, among some people, be a traditional Ascension Day activity, which involves going into the forest early on a spring morning, picnic in hand, to wait in silence in hopes of hearing a cuckoo (although you won’t find a lot of Swedes doing that today).

Despite Sweden being a mostly secular society, Swedes still celebrate many religious holidays, like trettondag jul, Easter and Christmas.

Most Swedes don’t really do anything to mark Ascension Day though, they’re just happy to have an extra day off.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


What’s open and what’s closed in Sweden during Midsummer?

June 21st is Midsummer's Eve, which despite not technically being a public holiday is a day off for most workers in Sweden. How are shops, Systembolaget and public transport affected during the weekend?

What's open and what's closed in Sweden during Midsummer?

There is no blanket legal requirement on most shops to close for Midsummer in Sweden and when it comes to supermarkets and grocery shops, the chances are that they will be open, particularly if you live in a city, although probably with reduced opening hours.

Smaller shops will often choose to take the Midsummer weekend off, unless they’re in particularly popular areas where there are likely to be a lot of people celebrating.

The exception is the state-owned alcohol chain Systembolaget, which always closes on public holidays or so-called “red days”.

Midsummer’s Eve is not technically a public holiday, but it is usually treated as such, meaning Systembolaget will also be closed on June 21st (Midsummer’s Eve) and June 22nd (Midsummer’s Day). Systembolaget is always closed on Sundays, so Thursday 20th is your last day to buy booze for the weekend.

Libraries will also be closed, so it’s worth making other plans if you were planning on catching up with some coursework or taking your kids to the nearest one to keep them occupied.

As far as tourist attractions go, it varies. Many large attractions like Stockholm’s Vasa Museum and Abba Museum will be open, but you should expect that smaller local museums will be closed – check in advance before you plan to visit.

As a general rule, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions are more likely to be open in areas that attract a lot of visitors.

Stockholm’s open-air museum Skansen will also be open for the full Midsummer weekend, with activities from 10am until midnight on Friday, 11am until 11pm on Saturday and 11am until 3pm on Sunday. 

In southern Sweden, open-air museum Kulturen in Lund will also be open on Friday from 10am-5pm. Visitors can help decorate the maypole before dancing and singing around it, and the cafe will be serving Midsummer-themed food.

If you don’t have any plans yet, you can search for midsommarfirande plus your city to find a public event. These are often well-attended and family-friendly during the day, while some serve alcohol in the evening.

As with other public holidays, public transport in Swedish towns and cities may operate on a reduced schedule throughout the weekend – often on the same schedule as regular Sundays.