6 December, 2015

Advent – and how to survive December in Sweden

It’s December and let’s face it – the darkness sucks. In some parts of the country the snow has arrived already and in the rest of Sweden it’s simply cold and wet. All in all, not a great set up.

So it’s not surprising that Swedes, being resourceful creatures, have come up with a a bunch of activities to battle the December blues and most of those are centered around something called Advent.

The word Advent simply means arrival, it heralds the Christmas season and is celebrated during the four Sundays before Christmas. In Sweden, it is tradition during Advent to light a candle every Sunday. The candles used to be placed in tiny Christmas trees, but nowadays Swedes mainly use triangular candlesticks of iron or wood with electric lights or make their own out of four candles and moss.

As the live candles often are forgotten, fires are rather common during this season and it is therefore usually a good idea for Newbies to stick to the electric variety.

The using of tea lights sky rockets during this period. And many a Newbie is left wondering what is so fantastic about tea lights, but Swedes will look for any source of light anywhere so a word of advice is to go to IKEA and get your own bag of 100 tea lights and to start decorating your home.

However, Advent is not limited to lighting candles. During December Swedes tend to up their calorie intake rather substantially. There are a number of tasty things to try.


Glögg is sweet mulled wine with spices such as cinnamon and cardamon that should be served hot with raisins and peeled almonds. You can get it with or without alcohol and glögg is served endlessly during this season.

Lussebullar or lussekatter are saffron buns usually in the shape of the letter S and with two raisins at each end. Opinions vary on how tasty these lussekatter really are but a word of advice is to not speak against them whenever you are within earshot of a Swede.

Pepparkakor are simply gingerbread cookies that come in all shapes such as flowers, reindeers, christmas trees, stars etc. These are commonly served with the glögg and can be eaten as they are or i some cases with  blue cheese but this is usually just for really hardened Newbies.


There is als the tradition of baking pepparkakshus where friends or family members meet up to build a house, castle or shack out of ginger bread dough. Many Swedish families takes the building of pepparkakshus very seriously and would never dream of getting a ready made mould. There are however many nice moulds to buy cheaply for less competitive pepparkakshus builders.

During Advent it also seems that Swedes need extra help to keep track of time – hence the Advents calendar. You can buy decorated paper calendars or chocolate calendars and many Swedish families open each calendar window together each morning, share the chocolate, drink mulled wine and tell traditional Christmas stories.

In relation to the paper calendar there is also a program on Swedish national TV – SVT called Julkalendern which is a daily broadcast of 24 episodes featuring some sort of Christmas theme. This year – 2015 – Julkalendern is called “Tusen år till julafton” (A thousand years to Christmas).

Dates to remember in December

  • 1:a advent – 4 Sundays before Christmas.
  • 2:a advent – 3 Sundays before Christmas
  • Lucia – 13th of December
  • 3:e advent – 2 Sundays before Christmas
  • 4:e advent 1 Sunday before Christmas
  • And naturally ….Christmas itself – that Swedes celebrate on the 24th of December.

Happy Advent and good luck with your Advent celebrations.

Liked this? There is a lot more interesting stuff

Julieta Spoerer
I was born in Sweden but it was a fluke that I ended up here. My mother was a political refugee and had all of 20 minutes to decide which country to go to once she could no longer stay in her native Chile.

Thanks to her I am parts Swede and parts South American and believe in the good that can come out of people moving beyond borders.

I work with words and digital marketing for a living and run the company Caligraph Communication. You can find out about it at

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