Every country that celebrates widely celebrates Christmas has their own special traditions, and in Sweden much of the festivities revolve around light (it’s very dark here, after all) and keeping cozy with good food and drink. There are many ways to celebrate Christmas in Swedish fashion, but we’ve rounded up 5 ways we think are the best to get you started.
Buy (Or Watch!) an Advent Calendar
Much of the festivities begin on December 1, the start of Advent. By December, Sweden only receives a few hours of sunlight each day, and Advent means it’s time to light candles, drink glögg, and eat lussebullar or pepparkakor. Many Swedes buy Advent calendars filled with small treats behind each door to mark the days leading up to Christmas.
If you’re celebrating in Stockholm, you can catch a living Advent calendar in Gamla Stan, the Old City. Each night from December 1 to the 24th, a window in the old city will open and listeners will be treated to a song or story related to Christmas.
More info on the living calendar: https://www.masterolofsgarden.se/
Enjoy Seasonal Treats
Here in Sweden there are some goodies which are only available at certain times of the year. One of the most popular additions to the Christmas season menu are lussebullar (or lussekatter), S-shaped saffron buns with raisins served throughout Advent to mark St. Lucia’s Day. Admittedly, these curious pastries take some getting used to, so if they aren’t really your thing, you might prefer gingersnaps.
Pepparkakor are thin and crispy spiced cookies often eaten with a glass of glögg, mulled wine. They are especially popular at Christmas and are known as “pepper cookies” and not “ginger cookies” because they were originally far spicier and contained quite a lot of pepper! The spicy cookies were said to cure disease, and it is still said that eating them will make you kinder. Perhaps that’s why you can often find them sold as a heart shape.
Watch a St. Lucia Procession
Alright, so it’s true that St. Lucia is an Italian saint, but her celebration is an inextricable part of the Christmas season in Sweden. Schools and towns choose a girl to represent the saint, who was martyred in Italy in 304 AD, and she wears a white dress, red sash, and candles in her hair. Now the candles are often electric for safety, though from time to time real ones are used by older girls.
Younger children join the procession dressed as Lucia’s handmaidens, as gnomes (tomten), or as star boys (stjärngossar). Instead of candles, star boys wear pointy hats. Yes, it will still be dark when it’s time to get up for the St. Lucia procession, but if you want to celebrate like a Swede, we recommend braving the darkness.
Eat a Julbord
Though it looks just like a regular buffet table, the julbord, Christmas table, goes a bit deeper than that. Traditionally, the julbord is comprised of three courses; the first focused on pickled or cured fish, the second one cold cured meats, bread, salads, and cheese, and the third on warm dishes consisting mainly of meat, specifically pork.
The huge julbord feast has its roots in the catholic period of fasting between Advent and Christmas Eve. Pork plays a big role on the table because of the historical significance of the animal- they were easy and cheap to domesticate, making them reliable livestock. A modern addition to the julbord is julmust, a seasonal soft drink sometimes described as being close to a spicy root beer. During Christmas, Swedes tend to forego other sodas in favor of julmust, and it would be a faux pas to show up to a Christmas party in Sweden with Coke instead.
Celebrate on Christmas Eve
Finally, while most countries have their main Christmas celebration on the 25th, Swedes have their big day, julafton, on the 24th. This is the day when Santa visits, everyone opens presents, and the julbord is served. The Christmas holiday from work tends to be long here, so Swedes get to sleep in on the 25th when everyone else is celebrating, then spend the rest of their holidays embarking on visits to family and friends.
So there you have it; our top 5 ways to embrace Swedish Christmas! Does anything here seem strange to you? Or have you already tried some of these? Let us know what you think of these traditions! You can learn even more about Swedish culture by attending one of the engaging Cultural Workshops hosted by Swedish for Professionals. Get in touch with us to learn more!