Swedish August Tradition: The Crayfish Party

Summer in Scandinavia is a bit like an initiation; you learn to cope with the midnight sun, then you’re stamina is tested at a Midsummer party in June, you do your best to choke down your first bite of surströmming, and finally (just as you think it’s over) you get one of the best gifts of all – a month full of crayfish parties! The crayfish party (kräftskiva in Swedish) is an August tradition in Sweden and Finland – and are popping up in Scandinavian expat communities around the world. Crayfish parties always take place in August, because up until 1994, it was illegal to fish for crayfish before the first Wednesday in August. Today, fishing is permitted year-round but the August tradition remains.

In the NBC show, Welcome to Sweden, the main character Bruce was thrown into the middle of a crayfish party and had no idea what was going on. To avoid a similar fate, I’ve outlined six things to expect at a crayfish party this season.

Welcome to Sweden tv show

Bruce Evans is thrown into a traditional Swedish crayfish party upon arriving in Sweden in the NBC show, Welcome to Sweden.

Slurping is not just tolerated, it’s expected

Check your manners at the door because there really isn’t an elegant way to eat crayfish. Not only is slurping tolerated, it’s expected, because everyone knows this is a messy affair. Why else would they make bibs with pictures of crayfish on them? Tie one on and dig in.

Singing is mandatory

This is not news at all for those who have spent the summer in Scandinavia. No one cares what you sound like; this is a Swedish/Finnish party, so it should go without saying that singing will be involved and you will look like a party pooper if you don’t join in. Many people know some of the most popular drinking songs (snapsvisor) by heart, but to mix it up hosts will often provide song texts to read from.

Aquavit

Most Scandinavian holidays involve some type of aquavit to be paired with a snapsvisa, or drinking song.

Crayfish come with a side of cheese

Your plate will be overflowing with small red creatures, but because there is so little meat on each, they’re really not filling. Especially when you’re hungry and the guy next to you is looking you in the eye for a toast every five minutes. Nearly every crayfish party will serve cheese slices and knäckebröd, as well as pie made from Västerbotten cheese to satisfy hungry people and vegetarians alike. Crayfish and cheese, a winning combination? Yes.

Eating crayfish is practically an art form

For the uninitiated, digging into the first crayfish can seem like performing heart surgery. It is quite complicated and messy but special crayfish cutlery (kräftbestik) is usually available. A good step-by-step crayfish eating guide can be found here.

crayfish1

Crayfish parties are often held outside to savour the last moments of nice summer sun and warmth.

your crayfish might be made in China

Most Swedes can agree that Swedish crayfish are the best to serve, but they are also very expensive! The quality of crayfish varies from season to season, so crayfish will be imported in from all over the world. In recent years, the good and affordable crayfish have been from China, Turkey, or the United States.

Everyone looks good in paper hats

…after a few rounds of schnapps. It’s tradition at a crayfish party to wear paper hats and bibs. Rumour has it, that when the middle classes started throwing crayfish parties (they were traditionally reserved for the upper class) they wore paper hats as a way of making fun of the fancy hats worn by aristocrats. Embrace the silliness while you can, the dark winter months will be here before you know it.

Crayfish party

Crayfish party hats originally began as a way to poke fun at the aristocrats but now are a staple of the tradition.

The crayfish party rounds out the Scandinavian summer traditions and is considered a celebration of the end of summer. There is no special day for these, they can be held anytime through August, and even into September, so it’s possible to attend multiple crayfish parties throughout the month!

Trees

Tree parties are cool too! Subscribe to our newsletter and plant a tree in Madagascar or Ethiopia!

Images from here, here, here, here, and here.


Anna Guastello
13 Aug 2014

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