At 63 years old, Harpo Adolfsson is still battling the elements of Jukkasjärvi, at the famous Ice Hotel in northern Sweden. Arctic blasts build snow drifts, which Adolphsson’s job is to man the heavy machinery to clear it, starting at 4am, with work often lasting 12 hours. It’s a grind, and it requires constant concentration. “Working with machines, you must be alert all the time, so it can be really tiring,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s a long wait to the weekend.”
Four years ago, Adolphsson began meeting mid-week with colleagues for home cooked meals and Guinness by candlelight, rotating between their houses and taking turns with the provisions.
Their Danish co-worker brings smørrebrød, while Adolphsson often opts for cooking homemade hamburger and reindeer. “You never know what we’re going to have,” he says. “Sometimes it’s something fried, or salmon. Sometimes it’s a three-course meal.”
These meetings break the drudgery, especially in the winter when the night stretches on for 20 hours, daily. The simple pleasure of sharing a meal and enjoying the company of others beats the time-warp passivity of a Netflix binge. “It makes me happier because you know it’s going to happen and it’s going to be nice,” he says.
In Sweden, lillördag or ‘Little Saturday’ sees Wednesdays as opportunities for a celebration. It’s a Nordic tradition which according to Rickard Grassman, a senior lecturer at Stockholm University, originated from when servants and maids had Wednesday off and worked Saturdays.
“Historically, it has since been put into motion as a kind of little holiday in the middle of the week when people need time to blow off steam.” The practice doesn’t resonate with all Swedes, but for those like Adolfsson it’s a much needed elevation of spirit.
North America’s ‘Hump Day’ frames this mid-week milestone with a few grains of salt as the second-worst day of the week next to Monday. ‘You’re halfway there…’ with a splash of just get through it-ness. Constanze Leineweber, Associate Professor at the Stress Research Institute of Stockholm University says a slight shift in perception could benefit those in North America who find the purgatorial work-from-home schedule where days bleed one to the next especially difficult.
“Something like Little Saturdays can be quite wise in helping people to create structure and fulfilment even when they’re feeling lost,” she adds. “You can become motivated with smaller goals within the week which you can reach and get a reward for… and not totally lose the context and structure that we need.”
‘Little Saturdays are about staying sane’
Ann Söderlund, an actress, writer, and mother of five explains: “Growing up, every day we had some lillördag because my daddy was a journalist, and we travelled and moved around a lot. It’s in my blood,” Six years ago, the tradition inspired her and Clemence, a friend, to start the Lillelördag podcast, which has reached the top 50 in Sweden.
“Little Saturdays are about staying sane,” laughs Clemence. “During corona, lillördag has become even more important for me. It’s like, ‘Now I can just relax and have a glass of wine.’”