Sweden and Jul

Christmas time in Sweden.

Happy holidays, everyone! Here in Sweden, Christmas is the main holiday celebrated and is the holiday that I partake in, too. And today (December 24th) happens to be Christmas in Sweden! God Jul!

That’s right – in Sweden Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. But that seems to be the biggest difference I’ve noticed between Swedish and American Christmas celebrations (although Swedes put a little less focus on gifts!). Both cultures focus on family, food, and general merriment.

Swedes are pros at getting mysigt, and candles, wool blankets, sheep skins, and kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) move to center stage during Christmas. Although traditionally for Lucia, lussebullar also can be found baking in the oven.

Also at center stage is the Christmas tree! In Sweden, the tree is often decorated with homemade pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies), Swedish flags, ornaments, and electric lights. Traditionally, Christmas trees were decorated with real candles and the whole family gathered to sing and dance circles around the tree (and a bucket of water was kept nearby to put out any fires that started!).

And of course there is always a smörgåsbord of food! A julbord is the traditional Swedish Christmas buffet. It typically contains a Christmas ham, pork sausage, an egg and anchovy mixture (gubbröra), herring salad, pickled herring, home-made liver pâté, spiced rye bread (vörtbröd), potatoes, and a special fish dish called lutfisk. Dessert is often an assortment of cakes and chocolates, but the most popular dessert is Ris à la Malta, a cold rice pudding flavored with whipped cream, vanilla, chopped almonds, and topped with a cherry sauce. Don’t feel like making it all? (I don’t blame you.) Try going to a Swedish restaurant from late November until Christmas to enjoy their julbord!

At 15:00 on December 24th the whole country settles in front of the television to watch Donald Duck. This has been a tradition in Sweden since the 1960s!

Fun Facts:

  • If you are interested in visiting the Official Hometown of Santa Claus look no further than Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland. While of course not Sweden, Rovaniemi isn’t too far away!
  • While you do have the right to roam in Sweden (allemansrätten), you do not have the right to cut down your own Christmas tree! Find one in your local square instead.
  • Of course, vacation-loving Swedes are professionals at taking time off for Christmas. Depending on how the days land in the work week, we can often have three weeks off during the holiday season, from around December 21st – January 6th this year! The 23rd – 25th of December are typically “red” days (bank holidays) here and so is the 31st – 1st. The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are referred to as mellandagarna (the between days) and are often non-working days for Swedes too (although you may have to spend some of your 25+ vacation days to have it off). January 6th, Epiphany, is also a red day in Sweden.
  • Interested in cooking your first julbord? Some good things to know: 1) The ham is first boiled, then painted and glazed with a mixture of egg, breadcrumbs, and mustard.; 2) Lutfisk is dried ling or sathe soaked in water and lye to swell before it is cooked; 3) Good luck!
  • Donald Duck is known in Sweden as Kalle Anka! Anka means “duck”. Daisy is called Kajsa.

Tess’ Tips:

  • Christmas is the main family event of the year in Sweden. And since Sweden is such a long country, many families need to travel a good distance to be together. Keep that in mind and book train tickets, car rentals, or flights early (at least two months in advance).
  • Interested in decorating the Swedish way? You’ll need some Christmas gnomes, or tomte. They are so cute and whimsical and a cheery addition to any household!
  • Advent candles are also a Swedish classic. We love our Elflugan (the electric firefly). Advent begins on the first Sunday of December, four weeks before Christmas. Light the first of the four advent candles on the first Sunday of Advent and light one more each subsequent week until all four candles are alight in time for Christmas. This is a fun count-down for kids (and adults too!).
  • If you are interested in getting in the Christmas spirit before the big day, check out local Christmas markets! Bundle up and hit the ice skating rinks, enjoy the lights, or try some typical Swedish Christmas delicacies. Smoked sausage, reindeer meat, pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies), and spicy mulled wine (glögg) shouldn’t be missed! And the stalls filled with handicrafts and Christmas decorations provide great last-minute gifts!

Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!

7 thoughts on “Sweden and Jul

  1. Donald Duck???? But, why???? 😀

    Thanks for sharing Christmas traditions from your neck of the world! It will be fun to see which Swedish traditions you continue celebrating once you return to the States.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Sweden and Easter | Sweden and Me

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