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Burned out? Try lillördag, the Swedish custom of 'Little Saturday'

This Scandinavian secret might be just what you need to get through the week.
Lillördag is a mini-celebration — a little break that can boost your energy and make the rest of the week easier to face. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

For many of us, the whole work-from-home thing has blurred the lines between our professional lives and our personal lives.

Maybe you blocked off a “meeting” on Thursday afternoon to give yourself time to sneak in an episode of The Serpent. (Call it self-care, we won’t tell.) Maybe you’re languishing or feeling burned out, and you’re wondering if your teenager has the skills to triage your out-of-control email inbox while you take a quick nap. Maybe you look up from your screen at 6:30 p.m., rub your blurry eyes, and discover for the 450th time that you have no idea what to make for dinner.

“So many people are working from home, and the trends tell us they are going to continue working from home,” said Cathleen Swody, Ph.D., an industrial/organizational psychologist based in Hartford, CT, and a member of the American Psychological Association.

When home and work get blurred, those people can hit a point of diminishing returns. “They’re going through the motions of working. Perhaps they’re checking their emails or they’re working on a report, but they’re not getting the same value out of the efforts that they’re putting in because their minds are scattered or focused on other things. They haven’t taken a proper break,” Swody said.

Give yourself a little break after work on Wednesdays

People in Sweden and some other countries have a lovely custom to break up the workweek. It’s called lillördag, and it means little Saturday.

I was intrigued by the idea of this midweek celebration, and I turned to Hanna Hedenius, who lives near Stockholm with her family, to learn more. It turns out the custom started because historically, people who worked on farms or in homes as maids couldn’t take weekends off, so they had Wednesday evenings off instead.

These days, it’s a chance to take a midweek break and remind yourself there are only two more days before the weekend.

“You let yourself enjoy something,” Hedenius said. “You can see people celebrating on social media. On Instagram, you’ll see a picture of a glass of prosecco and some cheese, or ice cream, on Wednesday because people have a reason just to do it.”

Sweden has a national radio show that plays popular music on Wednesdays and a fairly big podcast that airs then. The music they play and the topics on the podcast connect to the mini-celebration, Hedenius said.

Why breaks like lillördag can be good for you

When you have work you need to get done, it can feel counterintuitive to give yourself a break. But sometimes your brain needs that downtime. “After a certain point, our brains are taxed. They’re tired. They’re craving some rest. They’re craving disconnection from the work we’ve been doing all day,” Swody said.

Lillördag gives you a mindful way to build in that break. “What I love about this concept is its mindfulness. It’s saying, ‘OK, we're going to step away from the day to day.’ That helps people recognize when we’re halfway through the week,” Swody said. “I really like that idea of physically stepping away from work, as well as creating a ritual around it.”

It’s not a holiday, it’s a pause

Hedenius said everyone is familiar with lillördag, but not everyone celebrates it every week. It marks the end of a full day of work or school —p eople don’t generally get out early on Wednesdays like they might on a summer Friday. And all the typical after-school activities are still part of the routine — it’s not a day off from sports, extracurriculars, or homework.

Young kids latch onto it as a way to convince their parents to splurge on ice cream. University students use lillördag as an excuse to celebrate, and young people who don’t have families might go out after work together.

Restaurants sometimes offer lillördag specials, and a restaurant meal or takeout might be part of lillördag, Hedenius said. But restaurants are pricey — in Sweden, even going for pizza is fairly expensive. “Going to a restaurant in the middle of the week is kind of a big thing. Most people will think twice,” she said. It’s more common to opt for a smaller treat.

Lillördag is a mini-celebration. It’s a little break that can boost your energy and make the rest of the week easier to face.

These ideas can add lillördag into your week

The important thing with lillördag is taking a break from work and giving yourself a treat — no gulping a glass of prosecco while answering a few more emails on your phone. Swody said a revitalizing ritual is ideal — think getting outside, getting physical exercise, or enjoying time with loved ones.

Here are a few lillördag ideas you can adopt:

  • Make a simple meat, cheese, and fruit plate for dinner
  • Sit outside and enjoy the summer sunset
  • Add candles or flowers to your table
  • Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea
  • Take your dog for an evening walk
  • Spend time in nature


CORRECTION (June 8, 2021, 9:05 a.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated Cathleen Swody's affiliation with the American Psychological Association. She is a member, not a spokesperson.