Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Around the World--Sweden

A Swedish Christmas is very much an adaptation of Christian, pagan, and other countries' traditions.  Sweden has taken these traditions, refined them, and made them their own.  Some of these adapted traditions are the Christmas tree from Germany, the Swedish julbord which originated with Viking feasts, and jultomten (Father Christmas or Santa Claus) derived from St. Nicholas, the patron saint of schoolchildren.  Another adapted tradition? The Swedes celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, December 24.

Swedish Advent candlestick

Sweden begins its Christmas season in the first week of Advent, with the lighting of the first four Advent candles.  Their season doesn't end until Hilarymas, or 'tree plundering', on January 13.  And the Swedes do not take their Christmas trees lightly.  It is a very important part of their Christmas traditions.  The tree must be tall, straight, and proud and the branches even and densely covered.  The most sought after Christmas tree in Sweden is the 'Kungsgran' (King's Fir), called the Nordmann Fir in English.  These trees retain their needles well, but are much more expensive.

Lucia celebration in December every year

On December 13 at dawn, Sweden celebrates the Lucia festival or Lucia Day. The legend of Lucia is that she was the beautiful Saint Lucia of Sicily who traveled through underground tunnels to bring food to Christians in hiding.  She used a candle wreath to light her way.  Saint Lucia symbolizes hope; they sing of her, "Then on our darkest night, comes with her shining light, Sankta Lucia!"  The Saint Lucia procession consists of thousands of young girls, dressed in white gowns, holding a lit candle and, with a crown of electric candles on a wreath on their heads, bring light to the darkness of Swedish winter. Lucia and her maidens hand out saffron buns and ginger biscuits to the crowds as they go. It is a 400 year old tradition  which was started by the Swedish upper class.  The eldest daughter would take the part of Lucia and would serve mum and dad breakfast in bed on the morning of December 13.  This occurred around the mid 18th century.  However, the Lucia festival really took hold in Sweden in the 20th century because of a Stockholm newspaper's competition for readers to choose their own Lucia in 1927.
Swedish Christmas Buffé at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm

An important part of the Swedish Christmas is the julbord, which is the Yuletide version of the smörgåsbord.  The julbord usually consists of Christmas ham, pork sausage, gubbröra (egg and anchovy mix), pickled herring, liver paté, potatoes and lutfisk, a special fish dish, all washed down with lashings of beer and schnapps.

The traditional, Swedish family Christmas dinner is on December 24.  The tradition is to clean the house from top to bottom, having the tree standing tall and twinkling, and a ham in the oven.  The presents are under the tree and everyone gets full on food from the Julbord.  At 3pm, everything stands still in Sweden and families gather around the TV to watch Disney cartoons.  Last, but certainly not least, the children finally receive their gifts from the Jultomten (Santa).

Thank you for reading about Christmas in Sweden! 

Always in spirit....

The images and the information used as a reference for this post were obtained from Visit Sweden
The history of Saint Lucia was obtained from LIFE Books, Christmas Around the World.


  1. Ever since I read Kirsten's Surprise (the story of Kirsten the American Doll's Swedish Christmas heritage) when I was a little girl, I've been interested in Swedish Christmas traditions. Great post.

  2. Being Danish, our Christmas traditions are very like the Swedish with just a few regional differences. But the Christmas tree and celebrating Christmas in the evening of the 24th of December is very important.
    Now being married to an Englishman I have had to adapt to a least a stocking on Christmas morning.
    Enjoy Christmas and the Christmas spirit.

  3. Very cool information. I tend to be pretty fluid with my Christmas traditions so I always enjoy reading about others and seeing if maybe I could include some of them into my own.


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