Today is Ascension day...Christians acknowledge this 40th day after Easter and usually celebrate it on the Sunday following the Thursday. Because Sweden used to be a country where Church and State were joined, most all of the public holidays are tied to the church year. So today, Kristi Himmelsfärd dagen, is a holiday. Literally translated, the holiday means Christ flies to the sky, or Christ journeys to heaven, but because it is a somewhat obscure Christian holy day falling on a Thursday, the Swedes who do not practice any religious tradition (approximately 98% of the country) don't really know why they get this spring holiday nor could explain its significance. They are just happy for a Thursday holiday that also then invites them to take Friday and turn it all into a 4 day weekend!
Swedes love their time off. If you ask a Swedish person if they'd rather have more pay or more time off, I would guess that at least 95% of the time, they would say more time off. Of course, this could be related to the fact that a pay raise also means a tax raise so they don't really see the point of earning more money to just pay higher taxes. Even so, their attitude about time off vs. higher pay is quite compelling. And they know how to make the very most of their holidays. So, whenever there is a public holiday (known as a Red Day), employees have the right to take a half day the day before the holiday because you know, you have to prepare for the holiday. Then you get the holiday off as well. But here's the real kicker. Most of the time, you also get the day after a holiday off, commonly known as the second day of Easter or Christmas or whatever holiday you've just had off because you also need a day to recover from the holiday! Now, in the case of Ascension, Friday isn't a real holiday, but because you get Thursday, most think that going back to work on Friday and then having the weekend would be such a waste of good holiday time so they take what's called a squeeze day in order to enjoy a 4.5 day holiday weekend. Many employers give the squeeze day as a day off (much like the Friday of American Thanksgiving) so you don't even have to take a vacation day in order to get this lovely long weekend. So today, I'm off for Ascension day. And yesterday we left at noon. And tomorrow we are also off. And it is actually quite nice!
A little side note on the Kristi Himmelsfärd holiday. When we first moved to Sweden, I saw this holiday on the calendar and because I didn't realize that all of the holidays were linked to the church and because I didn't know any Swedish at all and because Kristi is a woman's name, I simply asked Doug, "Who is this Kristi chick we get a holiday for in May?" He was very happy that I hadn't asked someone else from church the same question! Now I know that Kristi means Christ and Himmelsfärd means Ascension, in its own inimitable manner, and I shall enjoy a half day on Wednesday, a holiday on Thursday and a squeeze day on Friday 40 days after Easter for as long as I live in Sweden.