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Important message to cultural heritage sites

Cultural Heritage
1930s: postman Anders Wedin in Enånger, Hälsingland. Photo: Einar Erici / Riksantikvarieämbetet

In this article, I would like to share some thoughts on cultural heritage, the practice of popular culture and what we as cultural heritage holders have a responsibility to the next generation and society in general.

 Traditional popular culture has been displaced by production and consumption over the last century. Perhaps to the extent that few Swedes have time for celebrations, commemorations and home traditions any more. How many holidays do you have to take to make up for this? Can you afford it? As long as it's quick, easy, convenient and digestible, it's fine, but many traditions require effort and risk being cut from the schedule. You can buy many of the supplies required, but in the end you still have to participate to amount to anything. We have to take the time and actually practice our culture for it to live on. 

Traditions, as the name suggests, are what are passed on. What is practised over the generations in the same way, where everyone knows what is expected and where everyone has something in common. It provides an irreplaceable security and a strong sense of belonging. As long as there is a "critical mass", i.e. a core of practitioners, the chain reaction can occur and more people can become involved in the common popular culture. At one workplace, I was told that they used to have a Lucia procession from the city's music school every year, but that was a long time ago. It was said with glittering eyes and a voice full of nostalgia. Why did they stop? Nobody knew why. Having said that, I booked the Lucia procession after checking with the manager and resumed the custom to everyone's delight. Then I realised how easy it is to reverse the trend. Whether it's a Lucia procession at work, a cuckoo clock with the family or a minstrel at a wedding. Everyone can do something to keep the fire alive. The main thing is to do something and do it with joy.

1899: Kerstin Olsdotter from Mora as Lucia outside Oktorpsgården, Stockholm. Photo: Hélène Sofie Edlund / Nordic Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

You can't solve everything on your own, can you? No, but what 12 farmers can't do, 12,000 can. The formerly strong home-grown movement involved many people and is still nurturing folk culture today, albeit under less favourable conditions. Over time, the movement became institutionalised and stagnated, while urbanisation depopulated the countryside on the one hand and overpopulated the cities on the other. Both groups lost their identity and had to be recast in the name of success. Tradition, customs and dialects had to be set aside to appease other interests. Fortunately, much was picked up by historians, ethnologists, archaeologists and enthusiasts so that we can learn about the cultural heritage through museums, collections and writings. However, it should not be forgotten that cultural heritage has long been in the public eye and the subject of politics. This process has become even more pronounced and complex in the first decades of the 21st century. In the post-modern world, everything that has been slowly built up and inherited is being questioned, abused and dismantled. Belonging, identity and community are sensitive topics and what was once taken for granted is now being poisonously criticised. 

However, our perspective must go beyond decades and at the shortest three generations. With the family as a starting point, we must begin to see Swedish cultural heritage as our heritage and claim what belongs to us. These heritage assets range from legends, songs, customs and traditions to landscapes, architecture, archaeological finds and sacred sites. We must strive to reduce the number of intermediaries and directly access our popular culture and heritage without it being distorted or questioned. Of course, cultural heritage needs to be preserved and managed, and museums have an important role to play in this with their collective expertise, but we do not need to have everything interpreted, filtered and served to us. We must be allowed to draw our own conclusions and form our own opinions about our origins and our future. We never need to justify or explain ourselves, we just need to take advantage of our heritage and continue the cultivation that has been going on for thousands of years. As more and more people become part of the culture, want to share in the heritage and are part of a larger community, many of today's problems will be alleviated. It is high time to improve our self-awareness to give ourselves and our children greater confidence in ourselves and our society.

1949: Woman with her two children in a newly mown field in Vårgårda, Västergötland. Photo: KW Gullers / Nordic Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

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8 thoughts on “Viktigt meddelande till kulturarvingar

  1. Marona Engvall says:

    Anything that can bring us together on our Swedish heritage is so very good - thank you so much for your work and for sharing! THANK YOU!

  2. Patrik Öbrink says:

    This is the best thing I've read in a long time! Now I got some of the thinking and grasping ...

  3. Christina Svanberg says:

    Thank you for your important words about our Swedish customs and traditions. I am glad that there are still young people who still cherish them. In our times we are told there is no Swedish history, worth saving. All our customs and traditions should disappear or change names to suit the so-called diversity. But I am happy to have grown up here with, beautiful May songs, Lucia Christmas parties, Mårten goose, Midsummer dance etc. With Swedish songs and songs,
    Swedish authors etc. Our Swedish history is rich, from ex Vikings, snapphanes, staters etc.
    The list goes on. But unfortunately, the younger generation seems to have lost much of this heritage.
    Which is extremely tragic. Been a long post, but it's close to my heart. 🥰🥰

  4. Elisabeth Öhman says:

    Love the old traditions I grew up with and passed on to my children. They change a bit from time to time, but the core remains. It's a strong glue that holds the family together and the community together. It's important to invite immigrant Swedes to participate in the community, it creates togetherness.

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