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20 of Sweden's beloved folk festivals from north to south

Swedish folk festivals
2012: parade through Visby at the Medieval Week. Photo by Helen Simonsson (CC BY-SA)

We all know Midsummer, Lucia and Christmas Eve as some of our most cherished folk festivals, with very old traditions. But have you heard of the Stångaspelen in Gotland, the Gammelvala in Värmland or the Sikfesten in Kukkola? Here are 20 famous and more obscure folk festivals.

I came across a book at a garage sale the other week, Swedish folk festivals (1984) by Åke Mokvist, which is the result of Åke's journey through the Swedish countryside and the experiences and fellowship he found at the many folk festivals he attended.

"The land of many folk festivals" Åke called our country Sweden, a land of old and new folk festivals that "are organised for our common joy. So that we may gain a greater knowledge of our country and our history".

Most festivals take place in the summer months of June, July and August, but there is no shortage of festivals during the rest of the year. You will find many of our festivals, large and small, as a new feature in the 2020 edition of the Allmogens almanac, which you will be able to order just in time for Christmas. Here's a selection:

Jokkmokk market

2008: the Jokkmokk market. Photo: J. Sandberg (CC BY-SA)

The annual market in Jokkmokk has for centuries been a meeting place for the Sami in Sweden. Dating back to the 17th century, the market begins on the first Thursday in February and the modern edition includes a traditional reindeer hunt and the sale of dried reindeer meat, roe and a wide range of Sami handicrafts, such as knives, hats and bracelets.


2013: Kalle Moraeus after the finish in KortVasan. Photo: Vasaloppet / Nisse Schmidt (CC BY)

On the first Sunday in March, the world's oldest and largest ski race takes place. On the route from Sälen to Mora, a total of 90 km, the thousands of participants follow in the footsteps of their fathers. The race was started in 1922, inspired by the journey that Gustav Vasa did when he escaped from Danish Kristian II:s soldiers 1520. The winner is none other than Mora-Nisse, who won the Vasaloppet a total of nine times - the last time in 1953. The record is held by Jörgen Brink, who in 2012 finished in 3:38.41.

Walpurgis celebrations in Uppsala

Walpurgis celebrations Uppsala
1942: Walpurgis celebration, Uppsala. Photo: Paul Sandberg / Upplandsmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND)

Among all of Sweden's Walpurgis celebrations, Uppsala's festivities stand out. In the morning, the rafting in the Fyrisån is already underway. No Walpurgis in Uppsala is complete without a traditional sill-lunch, which is followed by the equally traditional May Day ceremony below the university library. The caroling is said to be a relic of the time when people greeted the arrival of spring by replacing their dark winter hats with white summer hats. Then the celebrations go on pretty much all night with May Day bonfires and standing cheers, the most distinguished bonfire of all probably being the one at the royal mound in Gamla Uppsala.

Sloughing at the Hättälven

For those who have lived there for a long time or grown up at "Hättälva", three kilometres south of Nykroppa in Värmland, there is a sure sign of spring. Three days after the ice has melted on the river, in the first days of May, the slum comes to the village. Slom is another name for surly, the silvery fish that is Värmland's own regional fish, which is supposed to be a delicacy to be fried whole. When the slum arrives in the village, the days, or rather the nights, are busy. Out in the darkness of May, the boats are rowed with barred baskets of wood, the birch wood burning to attract the shoals, so that the slum can be reeled in. It is also possible to reel in the fish directly from the shore. Then it's party time.


Vätternrundan 2013, picture taken at Hammarsbron. (CC BY-SA)

It all started with a doctor in Motala called Sten-Otto Liljedahl, who smoked a little too much and was particularly fond of his wife Ingrid's home cooking. When the pounds started to show on the scales, he decided to make a change. Not only did he stop smoking, but he also came across an old bicycle that he began to use frequently. Together with some good friends, the vision of a bicycle tour for the entire Swedish population was born, and Lake Vättern lay ahead of them. 1966 was the premiere and 334 cyclists finished the 300km long tour. Today, the Vätternrundan is the world's largest cycling race with around 36,000 participants.

Leaf market in Karlskrona

Leaf market Karlskrona
1960: Leaf market in Karlskrona Thursday 23 June.

Leaf market is a traditional market in Karlskrona, Blekinge, held every year on the day before Midsummer Eve. In the past, the townspeople bought large bundles of birch leaves and oak leaf wreaths to decorate their homes, hence the name leaf market. To run or maja their homes at Midsummer is a very old tradition, older than the leaf market that has existed in Karlskrona for over 200 years. In the old days, people bought large bundles of birch leaves and giant oak leaf wreaths to decorate their homes. The oak leaf wreaths adorning the head are a reminder of the pagan solstice celebrations.


The first minstrels' festival was held in 1906 in Mora, Dalarna, by the artist Anders Zorn, among others. A minstrel's assembly brings together minstrels, folk musicians, dancers and people of all kinds who appreciate folk music and dance. The largest of them all is the Delsbo Folk Festival, which always takes place on the first Sunday in July at Delsbo Forngård in Hälsingland.

Kivik's market

1997: Raggare at Kivik's market. Photo: Peter Gullers / Nordic Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

The market in Kivik is very old, and is said to have originated when German Hansan established itself in Kivik to buy herring and sell it on to Europe. Nowadays it is Sweden's largest and most popular market with more than 1,000 stallholders and up to 100,000 visitors, and is usually held in mid-July.


2016: Måns Zelmerlöw swam the Vansbro swim for the first time. Photo: Mickan Palmqvist (CC BY-ND)

In July, one of the world's largest open water swimming competitions takes place in Vansbro, Dalarna. 3 km in an open river, including 1 km upstream, you have to swim to reach the finish line. It all started with Vansbro residents Einar Anselius and Mats Qvarfot, who wanted to promote swimming by swimming a longer distance. Mats suggested that they swim about 1000 metres. "Hell no," said Einar, "we'll swim under all six bridges" (now seven bridges). Included in "A Swedish Classic".

The Pole Games on Gotland

2014: throwing the stone wolf. Photo: Jonas Lodin

The Pole Games on Gotland, the Gutes' own Olympics! The Games, held on the second weekend of July, are a competition in traditional Gutenic games and sports held every summer in Stånga in the south of Gotland. Gotland. The five-day games feature competitions such as pole vaulting, pairs, stone throwing and the Gutenic pentathlon. The pole games were started in 1924 by Reinhold Dahlgren, who thereby rescued an ancient, dying culture of play and sport that the Gutenes had cultivated at feasts, mowings, "atingar" and parish "wåg" for countless generations.


Another popular festival in the sporting country of Sweden that can call itself "the world's biggest", the O-ringen is an orienteering competition held in July. The first year was 1965 with 156 participants. In 2019, a total of 21,221 orienteers from all over the world participated. A while ago someone wrote to me and thought that it was only a small bunch of Swedish "kufar" who were doing orienteering and that it was therefore in need of more "diversity". He couldn't have been more wrong. I myself remember last year when the O-ringen was organised in my Örnsköldsvik, and it is in every respect a true folk festival where the whole community volunteered to welcome all the thousands of orienteers from all over the world.

Gammelvala in Värmland

Gammelvala is a week-long family festival that takes place during the last week of July every year in Brunskog parish, Värmland. The week was first organised in 1963 and the name, gammelvala, simply means the old world in Värmland. With this week, the Brunskogs Hembygdsförening wanted to revive some of the old jobs that used to be done on farms in the days of subsistence farming, jobs that were disappearing. You can also try out specialties from the Värmland region, such as Klengås and pork rye porridge. During the week, 2 tonnes of pork are consumed! The week is also an attempt "to show some of the values and joys that existed in the past".

Gammelvala shows how things used to be in the past, for example how coal miners, blacksmiths and other craftsmen worked and what men and women did in their daily lives. The women demonstrate how to prepare flax, card wool, spin, weave, bake, bobbin and dye with plants, among other things. They also show how technological developments have made work easier for people. There is a steam engine powering sawmills, a crude oil engine powering stone crushers, and spark-ignition engines powering roof planes, cotton stamps, wood wool rippers and similar older machines.

Sikfesten in Kukkola

Sikfesten in Kukkola
Swedish Kukkola seen over Kukkolaforsen, from the Finnish side. Photo by M. Passinen (CC BY-SA)

In the village of Kukkola, a mile north of Haparanda, there is an annual festival on the beach of Kukkolaforsen, traditionally the weekend after Jacob's Day (usually the last weekend in July). The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, when the whitefish begin their migration from the sea up the Torne River to their ancient spawning grounds. The fish are gathered and reeled in the medieval way from the rapids, with nets up to 6 metres long, and then smoked and halved the old-fashioned way over an open fire. The whole area smells of freshly hauled and smoked whitefish, while dancing, music and rafting take place. The festival is a celebration of the return of the migratory herring.

Täckating on Fårö

1929: Täckating at Bottarvegården on southern Gotland, today a farm museum. Unknown photographer.

Täckating is a beautiful tradition that takes place on Fårö in August every year. It is a so-called ating, Gutenic for work community. In an ating, workers never get paid, but the owner of the house provides all the food and drink. This includes a hearty breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon coffee and, finally, a proper feast and dance.

Members of Gotland's local history society and students belonging to Gotland's nation at Uppsala University participate in the covering of Fårö, and the work consists of covering Fårö's old houses with bait, such as homesteads, barns or lamb dung. In the rest of Sweden, this form of working community and mutual help has also been common when major work was done on farms.

Medieval Week in Visby

The first Medieval Week in Visby was held in 1984, and has since become an annual tradition during week 32 on Gotland. During Medieval Week, there is a medieval market, jousting, crossbow competitions and more, while many dress up in period costumes. Not to be confused with Almedalsveckan, held in week 27, when Visby is filled with villains and bandits instead of knights and fair ladies.

Herring roe in Vaxholm

Herring roe 2018. Photo: Bengt Nyman (CC BY)

Every year on the third Saturday in August (2019 Saturday 17 August), the always well-attended archipelago market is held in Vaxholm, Uppland. On the programme is the traditional Strömmingsrodden, a cultural and historical rowing race with traditional boats around Vaxön. The start is from Norrhamnen and the finish is in Söderhamnen. There will also be musical entertainment and many market stalls with products from the islands, including jams, honey, blacksmiths and herring burgers.


Lidingöloppet 2009. Photo: Fotografgruppen (CC BY-ND)

Lidingöloppet is a cross-country race held on Lidingö, Stockholm, on the last weekend of September every year since 1965. Lidingöloppet is today the world's largest off-road race with about 60,000 runners and runs through mostly forest terrain on beautiful trails. Part of A Swedish classic

The power premiere

1971: Fishing for crayfish with a net in Nora, Västmanland. Photo: Christer Pöhner / Örebro County Museum (CC BY-NC)

The crayfish premiere tradition stems from the fact that from 1878 crayfishing was banned during the months of June and July in order to protect the crayfish population. At its most widespread, the ban lasted until 7 August, making the crayfishing premiere 8 August. Nowadays, frozen crayfish can be bought all year round, but many people still stick to the tradition and have a crayfish feast on 8 August.


This Norrland speciality, herring preserved in the ancient way by salting and subsequent fermentation, opens on the third Thursday in August each year (15 August 2019). Until 1998, it was even a legal requirement that herring could not be sold earlier in order to ensure that the fish on sale was sufficiently mature. Perhaps best known for the peculiar aroma that spreads when the can is opened, but also loved by many. The centre of Sweden's herring production today is the High Coast in Medelpad and Ångermanland, not least on the pearl of the Baltic Sea - Ulvön.

Moose hunting

Rock carving at Nämforsen in Ångermanland, with one of northern Europe's largest rock carving areas with rock carvings dating to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages. Photo: Gabriel Hildebrand / Swedish National Heritage Board

And so we come to the last folk festival in the list, and perhaps the oldest. Our ancestors have lived here in the Nordic countries ever since the last ice age began to recede about 12,000 years ago. For just as long, they have hunted elk to fill their hungry bellies. For most of our history, hunting was completely free. Game was plentiful in the great forests, and over time a widespread system of trapping pits grew up in the Scandinavian interior. The system was in use from the Stone Age until the 19th century, when the elk was close to extinction in Sweden.

From Gustav Vasa's accession to the throne, hunting moose was forbidden to the commoners. It was now the king's game, and hunting was reserved for the upper classes. It was not until several hundred years later, with the reign of the theatre king Gustav III, that the right of the commoners to hunt elk on their own land was recognised again, in 1789. Today there are almost 300,000 hunters in Sweden, and around 80,000 elk are shot every year. Sweden now has the world's densest moose herd, with 300,000-400,000 moose roaming the forests in summer.

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