Snapsvisor (drinking songs)

A snapsvisa is a traditional Swedish drinking song. Drinking songs are among the oldest song genres, and are still an active tradition in Sweden.

Location: Nation wide

Teckning av personer med höjda glas runt ett bord.

Photo: Nordiska museet.

Snapsvisor are songs that are sung when drinking spirits. They are usually sung immediately before taking a small shot of spirit, called snaps. The drinking song tradition can be found throughout Sweden and the Swedish-speaking parts of Finland. The songs are usually based on well-known tunes, but with new lyrics linked to drinking. A snapsvisa is sung as a group while lifting the glass to one’s cheek, and the song ends with the whole group drinking a shot of spirit.

Snapsvisor have their origins in medieval drinking song traditions, and gained widespread popularity in their current form during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th century, snapsvisor were particularly popular among university students. This was a predominately male environment, and as such the earlier songs were typically written and sung by men. Very few authors of the lyrics are known, even though the songs are widespread.

Singing snapsvisor is usually associated with annual festivities and meals. During the traditional smorgasbord served at Christmas, Easter, and Midsummer, drinking spirits accompanied by snapsvisor is common. Snapsvisor also remain part of student culture at Swedish universities. Drinking songs are a living tradition that is in constant practice and transformation. The repertoire changes as new tunes gain popularity and older songs are forgotten.