The first Sunday of August marks the beginning of crayfish season in Sweden – a day most famously known as ‘kräftpremiär’ by Swedes, roughly translated to crayfish premiere.
Crayfish season begins in early August and extends until the end of October. For those fortunate enough to have private access to lakes, it is customary to go fishing for crayfish. Otherwise, this is the brief period when Swedish crayfish can be found in most grocery stores.
Regardless of how the crayfish are acquired, a party, known as a kräftskiva, to celebrate the season is one of the most cherished Swedish customs. Let’s delve into the tradition and its origins:
What does a typical crayfish party look like?
Swedes typically celebrate crayfish season with elaborate dinner parties, most of which are likely to take place in the countryside or archipelago. The table is laden with crayfish, potatoes, bread and cheese, salads, and västerbottenpaj – a typical Swedish cheese pie.
As with every Swedish party, there will be plenty of drinks such as beer, aquavit, and snaps. Similar to the Swedish midsummer celebration, every shot, or “nubbe,” of akvavit or snaps begins with a short song, known as a “nubbevisa.”
Why do Swedes celebrate crayfish, and where does the tradition originate?
Crayfish has been a part of Scandinavian cuisine since the Middle Ages. During the 1500s, they were commonly served as a festive dish during royal celebrations or among the upper class. It wasn’t until the 1800s that crayfish gained popularity among the general population. Due to the rationalization in farming during that era, many farmworkers were left without jobs. To survive, many of these workers turned to fishing instead, making crayfish more widely accessible to all layers of society.
A hundred years later, in the early 1900s, crayfish became so popular among the Swedes that the government imposed several restrictions out of fear that crayfish would go extinct. This meant that crayfish could only be caught between August and the end of October. This law was revised in 1994, allowing for the fishing of crayfish at any time of year. However, some local restrictions may still apply to give crayfish in a specific ecosystem time to grow.
What is the history of Crayfish parties (Kräftskivor)?
Swedes have been celebrating the start of crayfish season since the late 1800s. Although the celebrations at the time were more modest compared to modern-day crayfish parties, known as kräftskiva.
With the government once again introducing restrictions on crayfish fishing, crayfish became an exclusive delicacy primarily available to the upper class. It was during this period, in the 1930s, that crayfish parties gained popularity. Over time, as crayfish became more widely available, the tradition spread to all layers of Swedish society.
Today, it remains an essential tradition for Swedes and is viewed as a special time to gather with friends and family, savor crayfish, and celebrate the arrival of fall.
Featured image: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se