Epiphany In Sweden & The (Im)Balance Of Life & Work In America

Swedish Holidays

Why can’t America get it right? We are the “No Vacation Nation,” whereas Swedes have plenty of time off to decompress and recharge and spend time with loved ones. Sunday, January 6, as the spirit of the holidays continues at Conditori Öresund in lovely Viken, Sweden. a photo by Ralph Grizzle on Flickr.

There are people (namely the modern-day Vikings) who would be upset with me if I were to suggest that Sweden seems to always be on holiday. So before initiating comments that would cause any hard feelings, let’s face the facts:

Swedes enjoy 25 paid vacation days, 13 public holidays, and a confusing number of de facto holidays. Wikipedia lists three de facto holidays and three more de facto half holidays.

There are even holidays between the holidays: Klämdag (literally, squeeze day) falls between a holiday and a weekend, which makes life good if the holiday falls on a Thursday, in which case, you can count on dinner parties, as Swedes can rest assured that they’ll be able to sleep in Friday morning.

Clearly, Swedes have more opportunities to not show up at work than we do.

The No-Vacation Nation

What about Americans? How many days does our government mandate as the minimum leave from work? Zero, zilch, nada.

In our country, vacation time is at the discretion of employers. Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, has estimated the “typical” amount of days off that large U.S. companies give their 10-year employees: 15.

Of course, we also have 10 federal holidays, though they are not federally mandated days off, and many of us work through them. We Americans are at the losing end of the work-life balance spectrum.

Americans need more time off to enjoy with family and to take vacations, and as my emphasis is on cruising, cruise vacations. We need more time to spend with loved ones — ashore and at sea — more time to decompress and to recharge. We need to change our social structure so that we work to live — and not the other way around.

Why do the citizens of one of the world’s most successful nations suffer from an extreme imbalance in life and work?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that today in Sweden is yet another holiday, Trettondedag Jul, or softer on English tongues, Epiphany.

Next year, when Epiphany falls on a Monday (it’s always on January 6), Swedes will rejoice in another day off work, despite having just finished a long holiday season.

As many Americans returned to their desks earlier this week, Swedes continued to enjoy time at home and with family. In fact, if you were to see them meeting one another, you’d hear them say “God Fortsättning,” which
translates to “Happy Continuation.” Happy continuation of what? Of what’s important in life, of course.

Isn’t it time that we embraced a “Happy Continuation” of our holidays by pushing for reforms that allow us to relax and breathe and enjoy?

After spending a fair amount of time in Sweden, I’ve seen how good life can be when work does not dominate life. I don’t expect the work ethic to change in America anytime soon. It’s not my place to start a revolution, but on this Sunday evening before we all return to work, I can say to you dear reader, God Fortsättning. Enjoy the last hours before the grind.