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9 December, 2016

Surviving the Swedish Christmas

Christmas time is here, finally, many of us think. But look around you. If you live in Sweden you probably know someone who actually doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

I had never thought about it until I had a Swedish class in which we discussed celebrations and festivities. There and then, I understood that those who do not celebrate Christmas were actually more than those who do. That makes sense when we stop and think about how many different nationalities one can find in each SFI or SAS classroom. Another interesting point was that some of them were not even sure how Christmas is celebrated.

How is Christmas celebrated in Sweden?

Christmas celebrations change from country to country and sometimes from family to family and it is not easy to generalize. The most strange Christmas I have spent away from home was in Brazil, simply because it was warm and we had a Christmas barbecue with caipirinhas. One does’t have to go that far though. Sweden also has its particular traditions that differ from other european countries not that far away.

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Advent

The season comprising the four weekends before Christmas is called advent. Traditionally, Swedes have a set of four candles that they use for this season. On the first Sunday of the advent one candled is lightened, on the second one more is added, on the third another one and the last one is lightened the Sunday before Christmas. As each candle will burn for a different amount of time, the end result is four candles lightened up in steps.

Lights, decorations and trees

Christmas is also time to decorate windows, shops and trees (small pine trees) at home. This is particularly special in nordic countries, where the winters are so long and dark. In the centre of the cities there are lights everywhere and even in the suburbs or small villages one can see lights in every window, many in the shape of a big star. Suddenly, the cold and the darkness stop being important and one wants to go out for a walk again.

Sankta Lucia

On December 13th the feast of Saint Lucy is celebrated. According to the legend Saint Lucy fed and helped people hiding in catacombs carrying candles with her. Nowadays, this day is celebrated, mainly in schools but not only, by chanting and holding candles. One element represents Sankta Lucia by having lightened candles on the head. Afterwards, there’s usually a fika with Lucia buns (Lussebullar) and others.

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Christmas Eve

Christmas eve is celebrated the 24th of December. I believe the schedule of the day varies from family to family but some things are common to all. The adults spend the morning cooking a lot of different dishes, while the children get cartoon magazines or something else to keep them quiet. The time of the main meal can vary between before or after Donald Duck’s Christmas.

Donald Duck?

Yes. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon swedes sit down and enjoy a full hour of cartoons with Donald Duck and other Disney characters. The show is the same every year except for a few minutes in the end that are new, and according to experts (more or less) worse. When there’s children in the family one of the highlights of the day is the arrival of Santa Claus, the nice bearded man dressed in red clothes, holding a bag on his shoulder. Santa Claus is usually a member of the family, many times the father, that leaves the house with an excuse, for instance to buy the newspaper, but instead dresses up as Santa Claus and shows up to distribute the gifts. The children love it and it works as long as they are small enough.

The rest of the day is spent eating, drinking, opening the gifts that were bought to each other, and most important of all… enjoying some quality time with the family.

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Christmas Food (often served as buffé, called Julbord)

  • Meat: Roasted or boiled ham, sometimes with dopp i grytan, which is basically to dip bread slices in the broth got after preparing the ham. Swedish meatballs. Prinskorv, fläskkorv and/or Isterband (sausages). Spare ribs.
  • Fish: pickled herring (obviously!), smoked salmon and lutfish (a kind of white fish).
  • Side dishes: Janssons frestelse, a potato gratin with anchovies. Beetroot slices. Red, green and/or brown cabbage, all served in separate salads. The last is served with syrup, therefore it becomes brown.
  • Sweets: Gingerbread, sometimes described as the Christmas taste, as they are flavoured with different spices. Knäck, a Christmas toffee. Lussebullar.
  • Drinks: Julmust, the traditional Christmas soft-drink found in every shop around this time. Glögg, mulled wine (probably not with the meal, but more to warm after a walk outside).
  • Extras: The table can also contain different cheeses and knäckebröd (crispbread).

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Family time

The most important of all is that Christmas is a family celebration. The family gets together, sometimes traveling from other cities or countries, and all gather around the table creating an atmosphere filled with joy and laughter. It’s also a good excuse to spend a few days relaxing and to get away from the frenziness of daily life.

I love Christmas and I could write endlessly about it, but I hope I covered the main points. I would also like to point out that Christmas is a season for all. You might come from a place where Christmas is not celebrated, but you can still go out and enjoy this time of the year anyway. Take a walk, eat gingerbread cookies, go and see the lights and enjoy one of the highlights of the winter.

If your Christmas in Sweden or in any other land is different let us know in the comment box. It would be great to know about your experiences too!

You can also test your Christmas knowledge with the Newbie’s quiz here!

Liked this? There is a lot more interesting stuff

Sara Costa
Hej! I’m a Portuguese Newbie in Sweden. I have also lived in Brazil, Poland and the Czech Republic. It’s been fun to be a foreigner in so many different countries and I enjoy learning about other cultures. I’m a fan of sports, some to watch and some to practise, my favourite being running. I also love food, reading and blogging. I hope you enjoy my posts!

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