The autumn-term closing ceremony in Swedish schools is traditionally held in a church. The country was solidly (if lukewarmly) Christian until quite recently, and Christmas is of course nominally a Christian holiday. But Muslim immigrants have become more numerous from the 80s on, the Swedish Church separated from the state in 2000, and so it is no longer uncontroversial to bring entire school classes to church.
My son’s school, when informing us parents about the ceremony planned for last week, emphasised that though the whole thing would take place in a church, no Christian message would be delivered. This was in my opinion pretty wimpy of the vicar, but such unobtrusiveness is typical of the dwindling Swedish Church. Its theology has long been getting increasingly vague and all-encompassing for fear of scaring any potential members off.
I went there to hear my kid sing, and the promise was held. The vicar in her funny ceremonial robes gave a little speech about lighting candles for this and that, but no mention was made of sin or saviour, heaven or sky guy, manger or star. No spoken mention, that is. Because although a few Swedish Christmas carols have lyrics about eating and drinking (“Hey, old gnomes, fill up yer glasses and let’s be merry”), most are loudly Christian. So we weren’t told about Jesus: instead we all sang about him.
“And across city and countryside tonight
Travel the joyful tidings of Christmas
That born is Our Lord Jesus Christ
Our Saviour and God”
“The heavens resound with words of joy:
Christ has come to Earth,
The Saviour is born unto you”
I wasn’t angry or anything, the singing just felt a little incongruous. It’s not such a big deal: I’ve taught my kids that the mythical figures religious people pray to are simply fictional characters like Mickey Mouse. And I guess any kids from my son’s school with orthodox Muslim parents simply wouldn’t be there for the ceremony. But I wonder what the Christmas carols of 50 years hence will be like. Most of the current ones are already 100 years old or more and largely incomprehensible because of their poetic and archaic language.
Svenska Dagbladet has a big feature story about the changing conditions of the Swedish Church.