Why do people in Sweden put candles on their heads?

Made in Sweden: Have you heard of Saint Lucy’s Day?

Shipping has always played an important role in Sweden – with its 3,218 kilometers of Nordic coast, it’s no wonder. Even if the Vikings and their fast ships brought great upheaval to the mainland long ago, peaceful trade and commercial traffic rapidly fueled the economy – and that has lasted to this day. This prosperity may also be the reason why the Swedish no longer sail the seas armed with helmets and axes and instead idyllically celebrate St. Lucy’s Day every December.

Saffron buns and red silk ribbons

Before the Gregorian calendar reform in the mid-17th century, the 13th of December was considered the shortest day of the year in Sweden. Although the time of the winter solstice has changed, this traditional day has persevered as the date when the Swedish St. Lucy’s Day (or Lights Festival) is celebrated. Originally, this celebration was dedicated to St. Lucy of Syracuse, an early Christian maiden and martyr; some of the first processions in her honor can be traced back all the way to the Middle Ages. Festive St. Lucy’s Day parades take place in Sweden each year. Young Swedish women wear white dresses with a red silk ribbon around their waists and a crown of lights on their heads. Families traditionally eat sweet saffron buns called Lussekatter for breakfast. The roots of this typically Swedish solstice celebration may reach back for many years, but in its current form, it is actually a relatively young tradition. Initially St. Lucy’s Day was just a local custom in western Sweden, but in the last hundred years it grew into a nationwide tradition and has since become increasingly popular throughout the Scandinavian region.

Sweden is the world champion of bananas

It’s not known exactly how the pre-Christmas celebration on St. Lucy’s Day came to Sweden. But there is something else that can be clearly stated in numbers: Sweden is considered the largest banana consumer in the world. The annual consumption per capita is about 20 kg. Maybe the exotic fruit is so popular because it supplies a lot of energy when the nights grow longer and the days shorter in winter and the preparations for St. Lucy’s Day are in full swing? 

Gothenburg’s Hamn is Scandinavia’s largest harbor

The popular bananas have been imported through Gothenburg’s harbor for more than 100 years. Where typical “banana boats” provided Sweden with its banana supply at the “banana quay” in the first decades of the 20th century, you can now find modern container ships. Gothenburg’s harbor, called “Göteborgs Hamn” in Swedish, is Scandinavia’s largest port and covers an impressive area of 220,000 square meters. An estimated 40 million tons of freight are handled here each year and about a third of Sweden’s foreign trade is transacted through this site. The brand-new logistics center, the “Port of Gothenburg Logistics Park”, has a size of over one million square meters. An entirely new terminal is scheduled for completion by 2025 in Arendal, part of Gothenburg’s outer harbor. Construction is expected to start at the end of 2020/2021.

Shipping as part of the DNA – A heart for innovations

Commerce and shipping and the associated innovations seem to be quite characteristic for the Swedes: The technology of Viking ships is still considered highly innovative to this day. Likewise, the first propeller-operated merchant ship in the mid-19th century was designed by the Swede John Ericsson. He was generally considered a significant designer and was one of the pioneers in the development of ship propellers. 

The Nobel laureate Gustaf Dalén, in turn, developed a special solar valve to illuminate lighthouses. Thanks to him, these so-called AGA lighthouses could be operated for up to a year without personnel or maintenance, which increased the safety of seafaring considerably. Especially in the rough sea and rugged coast of Sweden. 

The engineer Håkan Lans invented the radio system “AIS - Automatic Identification System”, which improved the exchange of navigation and ship data to control shipping traffic. Considering all of the progress, consumption growth and digitization, Sweden’s engineers are currently dealing with the question of how they can preserve the environment for coming generations.

cargo-partner in Sweden

cargo-partner has been represented in Sweden since 2017 and currently operates 2 offices with 14 employees across the country. cargo-partner in Sweden offers a comprehensive range of air, sea, land transport, warehousing and info-logistics solutions for various industries. 

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Emphasis on transport and logistics

According to the World Bank’s “Logistics Performance Index” for 2018, Sweden is in second place in a worldwide comparison, after Germany. However, this is not enough for the Swedish government, because the transport industry on roads, rails and waterways will be expanded further by 2025. About 282 billion Swedish kroner (approx. 27 billion Euros) will be made available for this. 

After all, Sweden’s economy depends on exports and, with globally operating brands such as Volvo, Ericsson, Ikea, Spotify, H&M and Tetra Pak, its innovations are heavy hitters in the global markets. Around 500 million tons of goods are transported by land and sea each year and the trend is rising. From 30 ports in the country alone, merchandise is shipped all over the world. 

The gigaliner – extra-long and super-efficient

While the south has a particularly economic development with excellent logistics, the north with its mining industries has to master much more difficult conditions. Rail transport is not developed in all areas of the sparsely populated regions. That is why the majority of the goods transport is handled by trucks – up to six times the volume once carried by freight trains.

So it’s no wonder that Sweden is also the country of giant trucks. They weigh up to 60 tons and are over 25 meters long. Sweden even made these gigaliners a condition for EU membership at the time. They have been rolling across Swedish highways at a top speed of 80 km/h since the 1970s – simply to transport a lot of merchandise at once. This is efficient and protects the environment. The huge trucks have remained a Swedish specialty because of the curves, intersections and traffic circles in the rest of Europe, where the local road networks are not designed for such vehicles. In Sweden, things are usually pretty straightforward...

Another factor is that Sweden is the country with the most advanced technology for driverless transport systems. In addition to Vera by Volvo, the driverless electric truck prototype T-Pod has also been traveling on a public road in an industrial area. A freight carrier commissioned it and now the Swedish transport authority “Transportstyrelsen” has issued a road permit for it. The Swedish startup Einride is currently working on preparing it for serial production.

If you consider the more than 220,000 employees at the country’s roughly 30,000 logistics companies, there will be plenty of work in the coming years. So there is ample reason to celebrate St. Lucy’s Day on December 13.