Celebrating New Year’s Eve Scandinavian style
Believe it or not, it’s not only nearly Christmas, it’s also nearly that other time of the year again. The end of the year, to be precise. Time for reflection on the last 365 days and to make resolutions for the next 365.
And then there’s New Year’s Eve – and for me, the London celebrations at Trafalgar Square are but a dim memory since I’ve been living in Trondheim, Norway for the last 25 years or so. Believe it or not…which is why I am writing about New Year in Scandinavia.
Having said that, memories of the morning after (at least in my younger days) are equally fuzzy no matter where we celebrated.
Moving swiftly on… Now we usually celebrate New Year’s Eve in a Norwegian styley – and it was quite a change from what I was used to. In fact, each of the Nordic lands has its own traditions, so for those of you in other climes, here is how three of the Scandinavian countries ring in the New Year.
And Finland, which I like to include under Scandinavia as it always triggers a debate. Or just triggers…witness, if you will, the heated but fun back-and-forths we had over one of my most popular articles about how Helsinki has the best dining in Scandinavia.
Anyway, here’s how these four countries will be doing it on 31 December 2023
Key Takeaways – How to do New Year in Scandinavia
|New Year’s Greeting
|Family dinners, fireworks all evening
|Ship parades, Oslo City Hall fireworks
|Jumping at midnight, royal address on TV, breaking plates
|100,000 at Amalienborg Castle Square, Tivoli Gardens displays
|Gott Nytt År!
|Public fireworks, singing, champagne & toasts
|Spectacular Stockholm waterfront display
|Hyvää Uutta Vuotta!
|Tin-melting, midnight bell ringing
|Helsinki Senate Square parties & music under fireworks
Who does what and where
New Year’s Eve is a festive time across Scandinavia, with unique traditions and celebrations in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Cities like Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki host vibrant gatherings and spectacular fireworks, while many head to mountain cabins or winter wonderlands to welcome the new year surrounded by nature.
Read on to discover the distinctive charm of ringing in the new year Scandinavian style.
New Year’s Eve Traditions in Scandinavia
Interesting customs help make New Year’s Eve special.
- Family gatherings with traditional foods like turkey or fish dishes are common .
- Toasting with fine wine or champagne at midnight.
- Jumping off chairs at midnight to “leap” into the new year .
- Watching the Danish Queen’s annual New Year’s Eve address on TV.
- Unique tradition of breaking dishes on friends’ doorsteps.
- Public fireworks displays, often with a poetic reading.
- Gathering to sing Christmas songs (Glöggsång) around bonfires.
- Midnight bell ringing at Helsinki’s Lutheran Cathedral .
- Finnish tradition of uudenvuodentina – melting tin over a fire and reading the shapes to predict the coming year .
Country-Specific New Year’s Celebrations
Norwegians welcome the new year with the cry of “Godt nyttår!” Fireworks are the main feature of the Norwegian New Year’s celebrations. Often a public display takes place in the early evening so that the youngest children can also enjoy the spectacle. Warm cocoa helps to keep the crowds warm and no child is without a sparkler.
Later in the evening, the adults get their turn; dinner is generally eaten with friends and family and often consists of turkey or fish. Later the group ventures into the winter night shortly before the clock strikes twelve.
Restrictions in recent years have (sensibly enough) curtailed the dangerous Norwegian habit of letting off rockets wherever they find themselves when midnight arrives, which used to make the otherwise orderly streets seem like an anarchic war zone for one day a year.
Even tougher laws are under discussion and most city dwellers now enjoy the public displays instead. Those residing in less built-up areas set off a few fireworks of their own. Fine wine or champagne is an important part of the ritual to toast the arrival of the New Year.
Many towns have concerts, balls and parties. Coastal communities hold “north to south” ship parades greeting the new year.
The Danish yell “Godt Nytår!” at midnight in Copenhagen’s Amalienborg Castle Square, where up to 100,000 gather for concerts and fireworks.
Eating, drinking and dancing are the priorities. Hotels and restaurants offer special dishes for the evening and also present music shows and live performances. Many Danes are glued to their televisions to catch the Queen’s New Year’s Eve speech.
When the clock strikes midnight, fireworks light up the sky. Many people set off their own but the display in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is considered the best. Indeed the New Year’s Eve show is the culmination of five days of fireworks in Tivoli Gardens which starts two days after Christmas.
A strange Danish New Year’s Eve tradition has people smashing plates on friends’ and neighbours’ doorsteps – the more shards you find greeting January 1st, the more popular you are!
“Gott Nytt År!” Swedes love their New Year’s Eve fireworks, none more stunning than the annual display over Stockholm. Before midnight, drinks and dancing fill the city’s bars and restaurants. As clocks strike 12, singing, cheers and rockets fill the air.
Everyone gathers to watch a live television broadcast from the Skansen Open-air museum in Stockholm, where the bells chime and a New Year verse is read to the nation (curiously a Swedish translation of “Ring out wild bells” by the English poet Tennyson).
The next day, kebab pizzas help cure hangovers and TV airs classic Swedish films.
Midnight fireworks and celebrations take over Helsinki’s Senate Square on New Year’s as Finns shout “Hyvää Uutta Vuotta!“. The Lutheran Cathedral’s bells chime as thousands gather to welcome the year. Fireworks explode colorfully in the sky above tens of thousands of merrymakers, while music and dancing fill the crisp winter air. Festivities last late into the night.
Beyond the capital, unique New Year’s customs live on in the Finnish countryside. The fortune-telling ritual of uudenvuodentina has locals melting tin over fires on New Year’s Eve and interpreting the shapes it forms to predict events in the coming year.
Traditional New Year’s foods play an important role as well. Bubbling champagne, delicate blini topped with caviar, and lavish roasted hazelnut-stuffed pheasant grace many Finnish dinner tables to ring in the new year.
Whether joining the throngs celebrating in Helsinki or practicing unique rituals in the countryside, experiencing a Finnish New Year’s Eve makes for an unforgettable memory. The warmth and hospitality of the locals welcomes visitors to join in the customs and start the year off in high spirits.
Public Festivities and Fireworks
Vibrant public gatherings for live music and dazzling fireworks make New Year’s Eve celebrations across Scandinavian capitals unforgettable.
Norway lights up early evening with displays in Oslo’s Rådhusplassen and more at midnight.
In Copenhagen, 100,000 people fill Amalienborg Castle Square as fireworks burst over the palace and Tivoli Gardens hosts a 5-day display.
Stockholm’s huge waterfront display awes the masses at midnight.
Helsinki’s Senate Square gathers tens of thousands for music and mayhem under an amazing pyrotechnic show.
Unique and Lesser-known Traditions
Beyond the parties and fireworks, Scandinavians keep obscure New Year’s customs alive. Finland’s fortune-telling ritual of uudenvuodentina has people melting tin over fires on New Year’s Eve and interpreting the shapes to predict the coming year.
New Year’s Eve Cuisine
Scandinavian New Year’s feasts blend traditional and contemporary flavours. Smoked salmon, pickled herring, roast pork and baked ham grace Norwegian tables. The Danes serve cod, stewed kale and sweet marzipan cakes. Swedes drink warming glögg (mulled wine) while snacking on saffron buns. And the Finns love bubbling champagne, caviar blini and roasted hazelnut-stuffed pheasant.
Tips for Visitors
Tourists can easily join Scandinavia’s New Year’s Eve fun. Denmark, Sweden and Norway’s capital cities offer vibrant public celebrations that welcome visitors.
Experience concerts in Oslo’s Spikersuppa Ice Skating Rink or shows at the Stockholm Concert Hall. But leave fireworks to the pros – safety laws restrict private use. Revel with locals but avoid drunken excess and smashing plates!
And what will I be up to as 2023 turns to 2024?
I will be celebrating like a true Norwegian, or at least a true middle-aged one. Good food and wine, great company and a front-row seat for the fireworks. By which I mean watching from our balcony.