New Year’s Eve afternoon was bright and sunny in Tucson, the southern Arizona town I call home. I looked at the clock. It was about twenty minutes to four. If I timed things just right, I should soon be able to hear the New Year’s countdown in Stockholm.
Stockholm? Yes, that’s right. Given the time zone difference, Stockholm, Sweden was eight hours ahead of Arizona. In other words, while we Arizonans had the rest of the afternoon and evening to get through before we could finish up our old year, Swedes, including Stockholm residents, would be starting their New Year’s Day in just twenty minutes. There was but one way an Arizonan could fast-forward the process and start the new year as soon as everyone in Stockholm and the rest of Sweden — through a form of radio-inspired time travel.
I sat down at my computer and pulled down my bookmarks menu. Scrolling down to the radio stations folder, I instantly found and clicked on the link for P4, the Stockholm-based radio station that had long been my favorite Swedish station. After a brief interval, the sounds of P4 soon issued forth from my computer.
I found — by no means for the first time — that a number of songs played on the radio station were in English. I recognized the melodies of rock tunes I’d heard long ago. No doubt the songs had been chosen with a young, English-speaking audience in mind, since the younger crowd had the strength and stamina required for staying up until midnight and seeing the new year in. Since the end of World War II, English has been taught in Sweden to children as young as elementary school age. No doubt the radio listeners currently tuned in to the Stockholm station had all gotten A’s in English.
The minutes passed. With midnight in Sweden now just moments away, the radio station’s mood underwent a major change. The rapid approach of the new year had not escaped the notice of the good folks at P4. The music, for the time being, had come to an end. A bell was ringing. As it rang, a man began to read a poem. The poem’s focus was “Nyårsklockan” (New Year’s bell). The verses spoke of ringing out the old and ringing in the new, about the death of the old year but also about new beginnings. It was indeed a solemn occasion, a time for reflection on the events of the year rapidly drawing to a close, as well as a time for wondering what the new year would bring.
The man concluded his reading of the poem. And then I heard the first Swedish song to go over the airwaves since I had tuned in. Swedish voices broke into the strains of “Du gamla, du fria,” Sweden’s national anthem. On that patriotic note, Sweden’s new year began.
No doubt about it, my Swedish radio-style New Year had been a moving and unforgettable occasion. Feeling inspired, I posted a brief account of my radio listening adventure on LinkedIn, along with an accompanying Happy New Year’s message. I also fired off an email about it to a local Swedish-American friend.
Having sent out those messages, I still felt a need to do something more. Curious, I decided to see what online information I could dig up on the poem. I learned that the poem bearing the title “Nyårsklockan” was actually a Swedish translation of the English “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” originally penned by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The poet had probably little dreamed that his poem, published in 1850, would inspire Swedes to start an annual tradition. However, that was precisely what happened. To this day, the Swedish “Nyårsslockan” poem is recited annually in Sweden as New Year’s Eve draws to a close.
As for my Swedish-American friend, reading my account of the P4 listening session brought back old memories. Having spent her growing up years in Sweden (she immigrated to the USA as a young woman in the 1950s), she recalled well how, during her childhood and teenage years, she got to stay up until midnight and hear the poem read on the radio.
No doubt about it, listening to radio stations based in far away places exposes one to far more than just foreign languages; one can also pick up priceless tidbits of information about a country’s culture. One never knows what one might learn when listening to the radio!
P4 Stockholm radio station (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=103) (To hear what is currently airing, go to the upper right corner of the home page and click on the arrow appearing below the term “Lyssna direkt.”)
“Ring Out, Wild Bells” Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_Out,_Wild_Bells)
“Nyårsklockan.” Author: Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Translator: Edvard Fredin. (http://sv.wikisource.org/wiki/Ny%C3%A5rsklockan)