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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
What do you do on a national day?
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

Momentum for a national day to celebrate British values seems to be growing in government, but what would we do on such a day? With impeccable timing, Sweden is marking its national day on Wednesday.

Sweden football fan
Making the national day a bank holiday has rekindled enthusiasm
Disconsolate and doubtful by nature, the typical Brit might not think they have much in common with their Swedish counterpart.

But when it comes to championing intrinsic values, the Swedes too have been latecomers to the national day party.

This is only the third year Sweden has marked its national day as a bank holiday, yet from Lapland in the north to the shores of the Baltic in the south, the country is getting into the swing of celebrating.

It hasn't been easy though.

Before it was a holiday, people never used to celebrate it
Susanna Wallgren, Swedish Institute
"Sweden has not taken part in any of the wars of the modern era, which may explain the Swedes' somewhat guarded attitude towards celebrating a national day," explains Po Tidholm on the country's national website, sweden.se.

Britain certainly hasn't shied from the international theatre of conflict, but it's perhaps reassuring to know that one of our European neighbours has also been wrestling with the point of a national day.

The sixth of June has been a red letter day in Sweden's history for centuries - marking the day Gustav Vasa was proclaimed king in 1523 and the agreement of its constitution in 1809. It was deemed the Swedish Flag Day in 1916 and in 1983 officially became the National Day.

Yet, says Susanna Wallgren of the Swedish Institute, it only started to be taken really seriously when the day became a holiday, in 2005.

St George echoes

Not surprisingly, in the UK, the idea of an extra day off has prompted some to voice support for cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly and Liam Byrne, who have become the latest backers of a British national day.

Bjorn Borg
Putting Sweden on the map...
But it didn't come that easy to the industrious Swedes, who voted to trade one of their May bank holidays for 6 June.

"Before it was a holiday, people never used to celebrate it. It would sort of pass without notice," says Ms Wallgren, in what, to the English at least, must sound like a echo of the current attitude to St George's Day.

The impetus for Sweden's national day was not dissimilar to those being voiced in the UK. Against the backdrop of mass immigration, the Swedes wrestled with their sense of national identity, and a small but vocal far-right.

But equally significant was the long shadow cast by its neighbour Norway, which has long rejoiced in a national day, on 17 May.

...and keeping it there
Today, the focus of Sweden's festivities is an open-air museum in the capital Stockholm, where, according to the official website, activities will include stilt walking, sack races, "animal songs" for toddlers and theatre performances. The whole occasion is topped off by a concert in the presence of Swedish King, Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.

Up and down the country, buses are decked out in the blue and yellow Swedish flag, which also flies from just about every flag pole. And, in what is sure to prompt unsettling thoughts among English people who balk at the idea of Morris dancing, there's also an emphasis in Sweden on traditional peasant costume and folk dancing.

Yet many Swedes, like Ms Wallgren, will be enjoying the day in a more low-key manner.

"I'm going to a friend's party. She'll have some friends over and will probably make a cake with a Swedish flag."

British patriots
Coming, any day soon
Indeed, baking seems to loom large in the Swedish national consciousness when it comes to their national day. Sweden.se says groups are lobbying for the introduction of an official national pastry while a confection of strawberry and almond paste pastry called Nationaldagsbakelse won the national day cake competition.

"We are still refining the traditions of what to do on a national day," says Ms Wallgren.

When the idea of a day to celebrate British values has been mooted, a common sticking point is how to rally the sometimes disparate furthest reaches of the union around one day.

Stockholm faces a similar, albeit less testing relationship, with the Sami people of Lapland in northern Sweden, who have their own parliament and institutions. So how do they feel about a Swedish national day?

"They celebrate the day along with the rest of Sweden," says Ms Wallgren. "We're a fairly homogenous country."

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