Christmas in Sweden
Does Christmas in Sweden differ from Christmas in the UK? Even though both countries’ holidays rests upon traditions, they have some different approaches.
The Swedish traditions blends foreign and domestic customs, and traditions depend on heritage and vary between regions, towns, or families. Christmas, called “jul” in Swedish, is not always focus on togetherness. Although colder temperatures, shorter days, and snow during the winter season often enhance cosiness, there are room for contemplation of those who are alone during the season.
The Arrival of Christmas
The Christmas spirit and celebrations starts as early as a month before Christmas eve, as Swedes alays celebrates the four weeks of advent every Sunday. It’s tradition to light a candle for each Sunday leading up to December 24th, which is when Swedes celebrates Christmas. It’s commonly accompanied by julfika, which can be seen any day of Christmas and lussekatter/lussebullar or gingerbread cookies are the most traditional treats. The lussebulle is a saffron bun that can take many different forms and sizes, but the S-shaped ones with raisins are the most classic. Every julfika is enjoyed with coffee, tea, and or glögg (Swedish mulled wine).
What do Swedes eat during Christmas?
Ever heard of the Swedish term “smorgasbord” or “smorgasbord” in Swedish? Well Christmas has it’s own version called “julbord”, which means “Christmas table”. This is a feast that consists of both traditional and newer seasonal food items and beverages served as a buffet. The julbord looks different depending on the region, but some of the more common dishes are: meatballs, red beet salad, grilled ham, potatoes, and Janssons frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation), a traditional Swedish casserole made with potatoes, anchovies, yellow onions, cream and/or milk, and breadcrumbs. Of course it’s common to end the big meal with a cup of coffee. It was originally a way of celebrate Christmas within the family, but today it’s also common for organisations to organise a julbord for employers and employees to celebrate the season together.
A Royal Celebration
The Nobel banquet, is another food related festivity, which is held every 10th of December to celebrate the year’s Nobel Laureates. This tradition was initiated in 1901 and is the largest national celebration attended by the Swedish Royal Family. Top performing students are also selected to attend the gala, as well as the Nobel Laureates themselves. This banquet is broadcasted live on the Swedish national public television and radio, and is something many Swedes participates in from their homes. One can almost say that it’s the Swedes take on the Oscar gala, as there is always focus on how well people are dressed, but a high interest is also on what is served. You can often find a version of the Nobel dessert in a local confectionery so that all Swedes can join in and have a taste of the banquet.
A surprising tradition that Swedes consider hugely synonymous to Christmas is Donald Duck. For more than 60 years, Swedes watch a TV show called Kalle Anka och hans vänner (Donald Duck and Friends) on Christmas eve, or julafton. Opposite to other countries, Donald Duck is more popular than Mickey Mouse. And even more surprisingly is that the show is nothing more than a collection of Disney film clips and additional short sketches, which have mostly been the same for over 60 years. And the tradition is so ingrained in Swedish society that “Kalle” (Donald) is often used as a time reference on Christmas eve, as in “I usually put the casserole in the oven just before Kalle.”
Another great TV event is the “Christmas Host”. A celebrity is yearly chosen to take on the prestigious role of hosting Swedish television’s broadcasting on Christmas eve. Their role is to entertain families, but also accompany all the people who might sit at home alone during Christmas.
Even older than Kalle is the children’s radio and TV series, Sveriges Radios and Sveriges Televisions julkalender (Swedish Radio’s and Swedish Television’s Christmas Calendar), which is broadcasted daily from the 1st of December thru the 24th. Stores all over the country stock up and sell paper calendars for the occasion as the series daily episodes goes together with the calendars perforated windows. The windows reveal an image that coincides with the plot of that day’s episode. A more delightful and tasty variation of the Christmas calendar is the chocolate calendar where each window contains a piece of chocolate.
Lucia, a choir event
Do you enjoys Christmas carols? Then a Lucia concert is the perfect holiday event for you. Every 13th of December, various choir groups all over the country dress up in full-length white gowns and sing songs together. The procession is led by someone who plays the role of Lucia (Saint Lucy), who is wearing a crown consisting of a wreath adorned with candles. Lucia events can be found in churches, schools, and even in stores and restaurants so it won’t be too hard to stumble upon one (or a few) on December 13, they can even be found outdoors. And where there is a Lucia celebration you will also find a “Lucia fika”, which is a normal “julfika” but accompanied by the Lucia songs.
Lucia is not the only activity that can be found outdoors. With the snow and ice that often accompanies the Swedish winter, popular recreational activities such as cross-country skiing, sledding, and ice skating on frozen lakes is never far away. And to keep the warmth they are often accompanied by an outdoor fika, a winter picnic where coffee is brought in an insulated beverage bottle, together with sandwiches or buns.
Swedish Christmas is a blend of outdoor and indoor, togetherness, and loneliness, but never too far from a fika.