In a country where the sun sets before three o’clock on the shortest days of the year, it’s no surprise that lighting plays a crucial role in the home. Swedes take lighting seriously, and even our tiny town has three lamp stores lining the main square.
When we moved into our IKEA-issued, furnished apartment, we were puzzled to find several mismatched lamps scattered around the small studio: table lamps, desk lamps, and lamps stashed away in closets. Scott even found a chartreuse frosted glass lamp balanced on the front windowsill and promptly removed it.
When he came home from his first day on the job, he immediately rushed to the closet to recover the lamp and restore it to its former position. “It’s supposed to be there,” he said in the fretful tone that comes with being new to a country and mindful of cultural blunders. He’d learned at work that it’s traditional to keep a light in the front window on winter nights and to keep the blinds open until bedtime. From this I deduce that it’s probably not traditional to walk around in your pyjamas all evening, which is probably a good habit to cultivate anyway.
In Canada, traditions tend to be observed mostly by older folks who are joined by the younger crowd only on special occasions. Not so in Sweden, where they are very big on tradition. In the case of the window lamp, I was delighted to discover that the vast majority of windows in Älmhult, Stockholm and points between are lovingly illuminated every evening around four o’clock. The effect is magnificent and turns a trudge down a windy, wintery street into a holy processional home.
It’s not just an urban tradition, either. Even a farmhouse in a desolate field of snow will have pinpricks of light in its windows, casting a friendly yellow glow into the night.
While I’m sure some Swedes, especially those who don’t have the luxury of working from home, probably automate their lamps with timers, pressing the switch has become a cherished part of my day. To pause for a moment, mark the sun’s retreat and look forward to seeing Scott walk through the door always fills me with quiet joy.
Next week, my travels take me to a conference in Las Vegas, so I leave behind the grey skies of Småland for now. But even as I pack to go, I’m already dreaming of getting off the train at Älmhult station, turning the corner onto our street, and seeing the strange green halo that means Scott is waiting to welcome me back to the light and warmth of our home.