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Lillördag Is the Nordic Tradition You Need to Get Through Winter

We all deserve a ‘little Saturday,’ don’t we, folks?

Cheers! It's Wednesday!
Kazuend via Unsplash

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett Hartz and his partner Nora started to feel a little stir-crazy. “All the days really started to blend together,” Bennett says. The Whittier residents were both working from home, Monday through Friday, and the lines between work and leisure, week and weekend, personal and professional, they’d all started to… not exist.

That’s when Nora saw a story somewhere—neither she nor Bennett can remember for the life of them where, exactly—about a little Swedish tradition called Lillördag.

Lillördag, or “little Saturday,” is a Wednesday celebration meant to break up the monotony of the 9-to-5 workweek.

“In Sweden, the tradition is from when, a long time ago, the housemaids had Wednesday afternoon and evening off,” says Ingela Eilert, an educator from Lund, Sweden, who has worked at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis since 2011. “They weren’t free on the weekends, but they had Wednesday, and that was their time to rest and relax and see friends.”

In other words, “It’s an old tradition from when people were overworked and underpaid and exhausted,” Eilert explains. Who among us can relate?

In Sweden, she says, Lillördag is popular among university students and adults—people get together and go out for a beer, or open a bottle of wine and invite some friends over for dinner. Some folks go out dancing, as many discos have a lower entrance fee on Wednesdays in celebration of the tradition.

For Bennett and Nora, Lillördag is often just the two of them, but friends and family members—like Nora’s sister, who lives around the corner—sometimes join in. “It’s not a closed-door celebration—anybody who wants to be part of it is welcome to,” Bennett says.

Now sure, the U.S. has its midweek traditions: your “Hump Day,” your “Thirsty Thursday.” But Hump Day tends to imply “Wednesday = bad,” putting it just a hair below Monday in terms of Garfieldian awfulness. And Thirsty Thursday, the time-honored collegiate tradition of blacking out before the weekend hits—because hey, no one has early classes on Friday morning anyway—is more about annihilating body and brain than it is restoring them.

Lillördag’s vibe is a little more cozy, a little more laid back. It’s a nice way to normalize a low-key midweek get-together with friends. Eilert says in Sweden it’s common to say to a buddy or coworker, “What are you up to tonight? Let’s have Lillördag together.” And yes, downing a few drinks is often part of the celebration: “Sweden is a country of a lot of traditions, and when it’s tradition, you feel that it’s OK to do something because it’s part of the norm,” she chuckles.

Hartz says it’s important that he and his partner don’t plan something for their mini weekends; it should never feel like an obligation or a chore, but a spontaneous bit of fun. The most planning they’ll do, as people who often cook at home, is to leave Wednesday open as they’re laying out their weekly meal plan.

Then on Wednesday, the thought occurs to them: “Oh yeah, it’s little Saturday!” On weeks when they have the time and inclination, they’ll go out for dinner or treat themselves to take out, or text a few friends and walk to a nearby bar, “something that feels fun and a little celebratory.” Some weeks they stay in and make popcorn and watch a movie, or use Lillördag as an excuse to pop a bottle of champagne.

Eilert says perhaps you could even swing by the Swedish Institute for a cocktail—their restaurant FIKA is open on Wednesday afternoons until 4 p.m., and Thursday evenings until 8 p.m. (if like Eilert’s Danish cousin, you’d rather celebrate Denmark’s tradition of “Lille Fredag,” or “little Friday”).

Thanks to its combo of “good for the soul, beneficial in combatting worker burnout,” Lillördag has spurred recent trend pieces in publications from Inc. to Apartment Therapy. But it’s also just fun! Two years later, Bennett and Nora still celebrate Lillördag most Wednesdays.

“It’s not even something that’s necessarily just helpful with winter,” Bennett says. “It’s helpful if you’re working five, six days in a row, to give yourself an excuse to turn off the thinking, working, rational progress part of your brain that’s churning throughout the week and just let loose a little bit.”

“Not too much!” he laughs. “Because you still have to go to work the next day.”