Christmas is getting closer, and I’m going to be publishing a ton of articles about how Xmas is celebrated in some of my favourite destinations. This time we’re hopping over the border from Norway to the neighbours…
Sweden, a land known for its picturesque landscapes and deep-rooted traditions, offers a unique way to celebrate Christmas, or ‘Jul’ as it’s called in Swedish. This festive season is a blend of ancient Nordic practices and modern customs, creating a magical winter experience.
Here are some fun facts about Christmas in Sweden that capture the essence of its celebrations.
Fun Facts about Christmas in Sweden: Key Takeaways
|Discover the unique flavors of Swedish Christmas cuisine, including the much-loved Julbord.
|Saint Lucia’s Day
|Learn about the significance of this festival of light in Swedish Yuletide celebrations.
|Explore the vibrant and festive Christmas markets that light up Swedish cities.
|Unveil the charm of Swedish Christmas decorations, including the iconic Yule Goat.
|Santa Claus in Sweden
|Delve into how Santa Claus is celebrated differently in Sweden.
Julbord: The Heart of Swedish Christmas Cuisine
Julbord, the traditional Swedish Christmas table, is a feast that showcases an array of delicious dishes. The spread includes ‘Julskinka’ (Christmas ham), ‘Lutfisk’ (a traditional fish dish), and ‘Janssons frestelse‘ (Jansson’s Temptation, a creamy potato casserole). This culinary tradition is not just about food; it’s a cherished family gathering that strengthens bonds and celebrates heritage. Delve deeper into the Scandinavian culinary journey with our feature on Must-See Stockholm in 2024.
Saint Lucia’s Day: A Celebration of Light
Saint Lucia’s Day, celebrated on December 13th, marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden. This festival, dedicated to the figure of Lucia, is a symbol of light and hope during the dark Scandinavian winter. Young girls dress up as Lucia, wearing white gowns and a wreath of candles on their heads, to bring light and sing traditional songs. It’s a spectacle of warmth and joy that embodies the spirit of the season.
Vibrant Christmas Markets
Swedish Christmas markets, or ‘Julmarknad’, are a highlight of the season. Cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö transform into winter wonderlands, adorned with lights, decorations, and stalls selling crafts, sweets, and mulled wine. These markets are not just shopping destinations; they’re a festive experience where you can immerse yourself in Swedish Christmas culture. Learn more about unique global Christmas traditions in Santa Claus Around the World.
The Yule Goat and Swedish Decorations
In Sweden, Christmas decorations go beyond the usual tree and lights. One of the most iconic symbols is the ‘Julbock’ (Yule Goat), a traditional Christmas ornament. Made from straw and bound with red ribbons, it has its roots in ancient Pagan traditions. Today, it’s a beloved part of Swedish Christmas décor, often found guarding the Christmas tree.
The Swedish Santa Claus: ‘Jultomten’
In Sweden, Santa Claus is known as ‘Jultomten’, a figure that blends the traditional St. Nicholas with a gnome-like creature from Scandinavian folklore. Jultomten is believed to ride a sleigh drawn by Julbocks, delivering gifts to children. Unlike the typical Santa, Jultomten is often depicted as living in the forests of the North, adding a mystical touch to the Swedish Christmas lore.
These unique traditions make Christmas in Sweden a fascinating blend of history, culture, and festive cheer.
The Festive Spirit of Sweden: Christmas Lights and Celebrations
Lighting Up the Dark Winter
One of the most enchanting aspects of Christmas in Sweden is the way lights are used to dispel the long winter darkness. Cities and towns across the country are adorned with twinkling lights and candles, creating a cozy and inviting atmosphere. In many Swedish homes, window candelabras and star-shaped lamps are common, casting a warm glow against the snowy backdrop. This illumination not only adds to the festive cheer but also symbolizes hope and the return of longer days.
Swedish Christmas Music and Caroling
Music plays a vital role in Swedish Christmas celebrations. Traditional carols, known as ‘julsånger’, are sung at home, in churches, and during Lucia processions. These songs range from medieval hymns to more modern tunes, each carrying the joyous spirit of the season. Caroling is not just a performance; it’s a communal activity that brings people together, reflecting the social and familial essence of Swedish Christmas.
Christmas Eve: The Pinnacle of Celebrations
In Sweden, Christmas Eve is the main event. This is when families gather to exchange gifts, usually handed out by Jultomten or a family member dressed as him. The evening is filled with joy and anticipation, especially for children eagerly awaiting their presents. This tradition of gift-giving on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day, is a distinctive feature of Swedish Yuletide celebrations.
The Tomte: A Unique Swedish Christmas Figure
Apart from Jultomten, another endearing character in Swedish Christmas folklore is the ‘Tomte’ – a gnome-like figure who is said to protect the household and its inhabitants. The Tomte is often depicted in Christmas decorations and is believed to bring good luck and fortune. This figure, rooted in Nordic folklore, adds a whimsical and mystical element to the Swedish Christmas narrative.
Embracing the Outdoors
Despite the cold, Swedes often embrace the outdoors during the Christmas season. Activities like ice skating, visiting Christmas tree farms, and taking part in ‘julbord’ at local markets are popular. The crisp winter air and snowy landscapes offer a refreshing contrast to the cozy indoor festivities.
Through these traditions, Sweden offers a unique and heartwarming Christmas experience that is both deeply traditional and joyously festive. As we delve further into the Swedish Christmas experience, we will uncover more about the country’s winter activities and how they celebrate the New Year. Also, discover why Sweden is a must-visit destination with our guide on Reasons to Visit Sweden.
Winter Wonderland: Outdoor Activities and New Year Celebrations in Sweden
Embracing Winter Sports and Activities
Sweden’s snowy landscapes provide the perfect setting for a range of winter sports and outdoor activities. Skiing, both cross-country and downhill, is extremely popular, with resorts across the country offering excellent facilities. For those seeking a more tranquil experience, snowshoeing and ice fishing are serene ways to enjoy the natural beauty of the Swedish winter.
The Tradition of Advent
Advent is an important pre-Christmas period in Sweden, starting four Sundays before Christmas Day. It’s a time of anticipation and preparation, marked by lighting candles each Sunday, special church services, and gatherings. Advent calendars, counting down the days to Christmas, are a beloved tradition, especially among children.
New Year’s Eve in Sweden
As Christmas winds down, the New Year’s celebrations ramp up. In Sweden, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with fireworks, lavish dinners, and social gatherings. A unique tradition is watching ‘Dinner for One’, a British comedy sketch that has become a New Year’s staple on Swedish television. The sketch’s famous line, “The same procedure as every year,” has become synonymous with New Year’s Eve in Sweden.
The Epiphany and End of the Christmas Season
In Sweden, the Christmas season officially ends on January 13th, known as ‘Tjugondag Knut’, or the Twentieth Day after Christmas. This day marks the Epiphany and is celebrated by removing the Christmas tree and decorations, often with a party known as ‘julgransplundring’ (Christmas tree plundering), where children dance around the tree for the last time.
A Sustainable Approach to Christmas
Sweden’s commitment to sustainability is evident even during the festive season. Many Swedes opt for locally sourced Christmas trees and eco-friendly decorations. The emphasis on sustainability extends to gift-giving, with a growing trend towards practical, locally made, or environmentally friendly gifts.
Sweden’s Christmas and New Year celebrations offer a blend of traditional charm and modern festivity, set against a backdrop of stunning winter scenery. The country’s approach to embracing the season with joy, light, and community spirit makes it a unique and magical destination during the winter months.
Unveiling Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Facts About Swedish Christmas
The Role of Tomten in Christmas Lore
While Jultomten is well-known, the ‘Tomten’ play a more nuanced role in Swedish folklore. These mythical creatures, similar to elves, are believed to reside on farms and look after the welfare of the inhabitants. During Christmas, it’s customary to leave a bowl of porridge for the Tomte, a gesture to ensure good fortune and help in the coming year.
The Significance of the Christmas Goat
The ‘Julbock’, or Christmas Goat, has origins dating back to Norse mythology, symbolizing the god Thor’s goats. Over time, the Julbock evolved from a figure who gave out presents to a decorative item. In some parts of Sweden, people still practice the tradition of dressing up as a Julbock to distribute gifts, though this is less common than the Jultomten.
Christmas Eve TV Traditions
A peculiar yet beloved tradition in Sweden is watching ‘Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas’, a special Disney television show broadcast every Christmas Eve since 1959. This show, known in Swedish as ‘Kalle Anka’, has become an integral part of Christmas Eve, with families gathering around the TV to watch it together.
Julmust: The Christmas Beverage of Choice
Apart from the traditional glögg (mulled wine), Swedes enjoy a unique beverage called ‘Julmust’ during Christmas. This soft drink, made from hops and malt, is so popular that it outsells Coca-Cola during the festive season. Julmust’s recipe is closely guarded, with only a few breweries in Sweden producing it.
Straw Decorations: A Nod to the Past
Straw is a common material for Swedish Christmas decorations, a tradition stemming from pre-Christian times. Straw symbolizes the manger where Jesus was born and is also a nod to the agricultural past of Sweden. Intricate straw ornaments, including stars, angels, and goats, are popular for decorating homes and Christmas trees.
The Charming Christmas Town of Gavle
Gavle, a town in Northern Sweden, is famous for its giant straw goat, the ‘Gävle Goat’. Erected annually since 1966, it has become a symbol of Christmas in Sweden, attracting visitors from all over. The goat has a notorious history of being vandalized, but the tradition persists, highlighting the Swedes’ love for Christmas and their sense of humor.
Christmas in Sweden is a fascinating tapestry of traditions, customs, and unique practices that offer a glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage. From the serene celebration of Saint Lucia’s Day to the communal joy of Christmas Eve, Swedish Yuletide is a blend of the ancient and the modern, the solemn and the festive, making it a truly unique and enchanting experience.