Saturday, March 17, 2012

Melodifestivalen - Sweden's Song Contest

Melodifestivalen. 'The Melody Festival'. Sweden's song contest. A cultural tradition.

Make sure to view the last video in this post - that's where the real fun is!

Each year, countries across Europe hold national song contests in preparation for Eurovision, the European-wide championship. And winners from each country go on to compete for the Eurovision title, held in the country of the previous year's winner. This year's event travels to Baku, Azerbaijan, which prompted a pretty funny sketch by one of the Swedish show hosts, Sarah Dawn Finer.

Sweden's Melodifestivalen spans 6 weeks of preliminary contests to determine the 10 songs that will compete at the finals. There's a notorious love-hate relationship between the Swedes and Melodifestivalen - they love to hate it. Although deeply entrenched in their culture, the annual event serves as a punching bag for the millions of Swedes who join together in front of their TVs every Saturday night, young and old, to criticize, mock, cheer, and vote for their favorite songs - and singers as the case may be.

This year my family skipped the prelims, but we did sit down together to watch the finals and vote for our favorite songs. Our top picks:

1.  Euphoria - written by Victor Escudero - sung by Loreen

2.  Mystery - written by Pontus Hjelm - sung by Dead by April

3.  Why Start a Fire - written by Lisa Miskovsky, Aleksander With, Bernt Rune Stray, Berent Philip Moe - sung by Lisa Miskovsky

4.  Shout it out - written by Fernando Fuentes, Tony Nilsson - sung by David Lindgren

Loreen and Eurphoria took home the honors and will be representing Sweden at Eurovision 2012 in May.

But in my opinion, the best performance of Melodifestivalen 2012 was not seen by the millions watching the national broadcast - but instead a choice few who had access to the sign language videos for the hearing impaired. I have no idea where this guy came from - but this is absolutely one of the best sign language interpretations I think I've ever seen in my life! He captures the song perfectly...every screech and yell of it! It really is a must see! Even the band linked to his performance on their Facebook page.

Now the citizens of Sweden have to work through the withdrawal that follows each year when the contest concludes - and simply bide time until May when - fingers crossed - a win by Loreen brings the Eurovision contest to Sweden next year!

Until  next time...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Walking in the New Year

It was the last day of 2011 and we decided to take a walk around our local 700-year old fortress, on the hill across the river from our house. You know you've been living in Sweden too long when the sight of a 700-year old historic ruin becomes a daily marker for where to turn off the highway to get home.

With the long Swedish winter dominated by rain this year, it was perfect weather for a little exploration and time to soak in inspiration provided by mother nature herself. Enjoy our little picture show, and what we found along the way.

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

life in Sweden

Location: Bohus Fortress (Kungälv, Sweden)
Cast: The H Clan
Stage and lighting: Mother Nature

Warmest wishes for the New Year!

Until next time...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tomten - Sweden's Santa

Tomten. He may not be the same Santa that I grew up with in the United States, but he's Sweden's main man during the Christmas holidays.

And it's become a tradition for our family to visit the Tomten at NK department store every year. Partly because I know that he always has time for my kids to visit with him. There are no paid photographers that need to be paid to talk with Tomten. No long waiting lines to visit Tomten. Barely another child in sight. What? Don't the Swedes know the power of this guy? He's the one that brings the presents at Christmas!

Two years ago Tomten explained to our 8-year old son exactly where the Legos were built at his workshop. He gave directions down the hallways, and when to turn right or turn left. The look on K's face was priceless. He listened. Really listened.

This year Tomten sat ever so patiently while Mia showed him every single page in the toy catalog that had a Barbie, Monster High doll, or any other variety of the endless stream of toys that she chooses on a daily basis now.

All the while, the family paparazzi (that's me) snaps unlimited shots to capture those special moments with Tomten. No extra charge.

The visit always ends with a stroll outside to look at the department store's Christmas windows. At this time of year it really doesn't matter what time of day we go to see the's dark after 3pm and anything before that is dusk. The lights and music combine to create just the right kind of festive spirit, and because we've already been in to visit Tomten, we resist the urge of being drawn back in to the commercialism lurking behind those holiday window displays.

Well what do you know? The Americans and Swedes have something in common after all - Christmas shopping madness.

Until next time...

Monday, November 7, 2011

All Saints' Day vs. Halloween Day

The American-style Halloween tradition is slowly making its way to Sweden, so our family recently traveled to Denmark to celebrate Halloween at Tivoli.

I believe one of the reasons that Halloween isn't big here yet is the confusion between when, where, how and why it is celebrated, given that it falls at the same time of year as Sweden's Alla Hellgons Dag (All Saints' Day), which is equivalent to Memorial Day in the U.S. and a time to remember the dead.

In other words, it would be like a lot of kids walking around in costumes and asking for candy on Memorial Day.

So, you see, each year that I continue to live in Sweden, I gain a little more understanding of why things are done 'differently' here, or where cultural celebrations differ and why. So in honor of my continued quest for understanding, here's an absolutely breathtaking video that shows the beauty of Sweden's memorial celebration.

All Saint's Day in Sweden from Christopher Bennison on Vimeo.

Background Info: 

As dusk falls on Saturday, All Saints Day, Swedes stream towards the country's graveyards armed with candles, matches, wreaths and flowers for the graves of their loved ones.

The beauty of the candlelight blended with a soothing melancholy creates an emotionally-charged atmosphere. Small rural churchyards are visible across fields, dotted with flecks of golden light, while in towns and cities people murmur hushed greetings to those visiting neighbouring graves.

Probably the most spectacular place to witness the festival is the massive cemetery of Skogskyrkogården in the south of Stockholm. Chatty crowds drift from the train station, past hot dog vendors and candle stalls, as if to a football match.

But as they enter the cemetery they are greeted not with the roar of a stadium but with a silence almost as overwhelming. Thousands upon thousands of marshal lights line the winding road into the churchyard, the glare becoming more and more intense until at the top of the hill in the centre there is barely space to walk between the rows of candles.

[Excerpt from]

Until next time...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Traveling Circus - Pros and Cons of Living in Sweden

When I talk about the traveling circus I'm not referring to my family (although on some days...). I'm talking about the real Deal.


Cirkus Maximum is a fun little family-owned circus that travels around Sweden each year and has been doing so for the past 30 years. The caravan of candy-apple red and golden yellow wagons file in line to different sites every few days. They pitch the big red tent, bring in the elephants and the clowns, and each year showcases a new act of acrobats or daredevils.

There's something special about kids at a circus. Watching them watch the circus performers with their sticky cotton candy hands, everything feels possible. The clowns are still throwing pretend water at the crowds. The acrobats still fly high above our upturned faces. There are dogs jumping through hoops, body contortionists, and camels to ride during intermission (and seeing a camel in a cool weather country like Sweden is quite a sight).

I don't miss the big arena-style circuses of my own childhood. In fact I think my kids are getting a better experience with the small traveling circus where they can wave at the ringmaster in his wagon as we walk by after the show.

Yes, the traveling circus falls on the 'Pros' side of the 'Living in Sweden' list. Just look at how happy there were after the show!

Until next time...

p.s.  If you would like a little peek at this fun bit of Swedish culture, watch this quick 2-minute video that showcases Cirkus Maximum.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Weekend Abroad in Denmark

I'm not sure if you can really call it 'abroad' when a weekend trip to Copenhagen (Denmark) is only a 3-hour drive from our town in Sweden. That's where we went this past weekend to enjoy a nice helping of good-'ol-home-style Halloween-ing, along with the characteristically wonderful sights and sounds of Copenhagen.

You see, Halloween hasn't hit big yet here in Sweden. It's coming, but slowly. I work hard to keep this American tradition alive for my kids - and that has included everything from arranging big Halloween parties with the local American Women's Club to dropping letters in every single one of my neighbor's mailboxes explaining 1) the Halloween holiday, 2) when our kids would be knocking on their doors for trick-or-treating, and 3) why it's important to have candy ready and waiting.

I saw that Tivoli in Copenhagen was having a Halloween theme - and thanks to Groupon we got a hotel smack in the city center for super cheap. It was meant to be, so off we went. First day - Tivoli amusement park, built in 1843 and located right in the center of Copenhagen.

Well, we were traveling with 2 small children, after all. Not all moments are happy moments - as witnessed in the shot above...even in an amusement park!  But then there are the moments like this one below, where all of the world's problems melt away with a little cotton candy!

Two of my favorite photos from the trip did not come from our own camera, but from the camera on the Tivoli rides. You know, the ones where you usually have this funky freaked out look on your face? But this time was different, and we had to get these photos for the fun memories they will preserve. First, I don't think we could get Kai's hair to stand up like that if we used a full can of hairspray. And then the look on Mia's face is one of genuine fear and fun combined!

So, while I wasn't blogging or checking emails or pinning on Pinterest, I was having a great family weekend 'abroad'.

Watch for more great images from Copenhagen, coming soon.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Weekend Free of Blogging - Part II

It was another fun-filled day with friends visiting from England. The divine little Miss M and I joined our friends on the large Swedish island of Tjörn to take in some 'sculpture in a field' and a picnic on the ocean coast.

Above:  Sculpture in Pilane is a unique sculpture exhibit with artists from around the world displaying their (often oversized) works of art in an ancient cultural landscape (field) with stone 'judgement circles' dating from the iron age. Sheep included.
Below: Random shots of things that caught my eye around Tjörn.

What a great weekend! Again, if you want to see more pics from Friday and Saturday, don't miss Part I of 'A Weekend Free of Blogging'.

Until next time...

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