St Lucia’s Day
Christmas in Sweden is much more than just Santa arriving on Christmas Eve to leave presents for anyone who has been good. Christmas celebrations begin on 13 December with St Lucia’s Day. This celebration originates from stories told by monks who first brought Christianity to the region.
St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred and killed for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things. Lucy means ‘light’ so this is a very appropriate name.
The Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, also falls on 13 December and this pagan festival of light is also incorporated into St Lucia’s Day.
St. Lucia’s Day, a festival celebrated since the late 1700’s is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown made of evergreen lingonberry branches, symbolising new life in winter and incorporating candles. A young girl is chosen to play St Lucia in schools, villages, towns and even nationally. The national St Lucia visits hospitals singing songs about St Lucia and handing out ginger snap biscuits called ‘Pepparkakor’. Other girls dress up as ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles) and boys may dress up as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star boys).
Food is also important on St Lucia’s day and for breakfast a popular food to be eaten are ‘Lussekatts’, buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins.
Christmas Trees and Decorations
A few days before Christmas, Swedes ventured out to find the perfect tree. This is taken very seriously since it is the very symbol of Christmas and the tree must be densely and evenly branched, and most importantly, straight! Even though Sweden has an abundance of fir trees in the forests, it is illegal to go and chop down one yourself.
Trees are decorated according to family tradition. Some are bedecked with flags, others with tinsel and many with coloured baubles. Electric lights are usually preferred to candles on the tree because of the risk of fire. Decorations made from straw are also very popular since the straw reminds them that Jesus was born in a manger.
Homes are also decorated with wall hangings depicting brownies and winter scenes, with tablecloths in Christmas patterns, and with candlesticks, little Father Christmas figures and angels. The smell of hyacinths fill the house.
While the commercial decorations are there for a specific purpose, they also have a wider effect − they keep the dark at bay. Throughout the country, Swedes help by putting electrical candlesticks in their windows and arranging lights on a Christmas tree, or any other tree for that matter ,in the garden.
Like the rest of the world Christmas Eve is also very important in Sweden and the main meal, or rather the feast, of the festivities is eaten. The meal is often a ‘julbord’ which is a buffet, eaten at lunchtime. The julbord consists of cold fish eg, herring (served in many different ways), gravlax (salmon which has been cured in sugar, salt and dill) and smoked salmon. Cold meats, including turkey, roast beef and ‘julskinka’ (a Christmas ham); cheeses, liver pate, salads, pickles and different types of bread and butter (or mayonnaise) are eaten too. There will also be warm savoury foods including meatballs, ‘prinskorv’ (sausages), ‘koldomar’ (meat stuffed cabbage rolls), jellied pigs’ feet, lutfisk (a dried cod served with a thick white sauce) and ‘revbenspjäll’ (oven-roasted pork ribs). Vegetables such as potatoes and red cabbage will also be served. Another potato dish is ‘Janssons Frestelse’ (matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies that is baked to a golden brown). There’s also ‘dopp i grytan’ which is bread that is dipped in the broth and juices that are left over after boiling the ham. The desert, if there is any more room for food, tends to consist of a selection of sweet pastries, some more pepparkakor biscuits and some home made sweets. A sweet mulled wine known as ‘glogg’ accompanies the food.
Every year, since 1959, at 3.00pm on Christmas Eve, the TV stations show Donald Duck cartoons TV1 shows the Disney special “From All of Us to All of You” or in Swedish it’s “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” meaning “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.” This is rather popular and approximately 40 to 50% of the Swedes watch it.
Presents are normally exchanged on the evening of Christmas Eve due to the fact that people often go to Church early on Christmas morning. In Sweden, presents may be brought by Santa called ‘Jultomten’ or by gnomes/elves called ‘Nissar’ or ‘Tomte’. If anyone is peckish there is another dish that is generally eaten whilst exchanging gifts; more food that can ‘risgrynsgröt’ (rice porridge that’s eaten with ‘hallonsylt’ [raspberry jam] or sprinkled with some cinnamon)
End of Christmas Period
The end of Christmas celebrations end on January 13th (twenty days after Christmas) which is called ‘Tjugondag Knut’ (Twentieth Day Knut) or ‘Tjugondag jul’ (Twentieth Day Yule) and is named after a Danish prince called Canute Lavard. On Tjugondag Knut it’s traditional that the christmas Tree is taken down and and left over cookies and sweets are eaten!
In Swedish Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘God Jul’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.Swedish Christmas – the origins
Compass Moving Services offer a regular removals service to and from Sweden.
Seven Top Tips to Celebrate a Swedish Christmas
- Put lights in your window
Unlike other countries, Swedish people are very reserved when it comes to Christmas adornments. Rather than having extravagant decorations, Swedish people do just enough to make things feel extra warm and cosy. So if you want to celebrate like a Swede this Christmas, put some festal lights in your windows. It will be equally as enjoyable for you as for all the people that walk by.
- Build a gingerbread house
Swedish people are a crafty bunch who love to create things themselves, especially around Christmas. Along with making many of their own decorations, Swedes love to make gingerbread houses. Children and adults alike enjoy this activity, and can be very ambitious when it comes to designing and embellishing their edible masterpieces.
- Drink some mulled wine
On a cold winter’s day, there is nothing better than burrowing down on the sofa with a warm mug of mulled wine (glögg). Glögg is made from mixing port wine, orange peel, sugar, and spices such as clove, nutmeg and cinnamon. In Sweden, it is popular to drink glögg together with raisins and roasted almonds. It can be consumed both hot and cold, and non-alcoholic versions are available.
- Find the perfect Christmas tree
Just like glögg, having the scent of fresh pine in your home is another wonderful smell to associate with Christmas. As 67% of Sweden is covered by forest, it is no surprise that Swedish people love to place gifts under a real, living Christmas tree.
- Watch a Lucia concert
Celebrating Lucia is one of the foremost cultural traditions in Sweden, and has clear references to darkness and light, cold and warmth. Students are welcome to attend SLU’s Lucia procession, where they can sit back as the lights are dimmed, and hear the angelic sound of singing voices approaching.
- Enjoy a Christmas buffet
No Swedish-style Christmas is complete without a traditional Christmas buffet (julbord). Although this feast should be eaten on Christmas Eve, you can often find restaurants serving a Swedish julbord throughout the month of December.
- Watch the Christmas cartoon
One of the most unique Christmas traditions in Sweden is watching Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) on Christmas Eve.
Finally wish everyone ‘God Jul’, Swedish for Merry Christmas!