‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ – Wooden houses carrying blankets of snow on top, looking like whipped cream covering up their typical falu red. Christmas lights brightening up the peaceful streets while it already begins to dawn around 3 pm. And people well wrapped up in thick winter jackets leaving footprints with their heavy boots in the snow. Really, it seems so simple to get into the holiday mood in bleary Sweden, don’t you agree? But what is actually going on in the country during the while when darkness is ruling daytime?
For starters, Christmas vacation usually starts between 17th and 22nd of December depending on which weekday Christmas Eve falls on that year. During these last days right before Christmas most of the preparations like grocery shopping, decorating the Christmas tree, or wrapping up presents are done. NOTE: If you don’t want to get rolled over by an avalanche of people in the shopping malls, get your presents early! However, this does not really differ too much from any other European country, does it?
Though, silhouetting against the common Christmas events, is St. Lucia’s Day, on the 13th of December. The story of St. Lucia, a young Christian girl killed for her faith in 304, was told by Monks that first brought Christianity to Sweden. Rumor has it that Lucia secretly brought food to persecuted Christians in Rome, hiding in catacombs under the city. For that, she wore candles on her head which suits the meaning of her name well, considering Lucy stands for light. Today, children like to dress up as Lucia or Stjärngossar (i.e. star boys) on the 13th. Really most of them dress up to join processions in their (pre)schools. Also, a national Lucia is chosen each year, who is visiting hospitals and old people's homes, singing and giving out Pepparkakor (i.e. ginger snap biscuits). But not only in Sweden people celebrate this day in honor of St. Lucia. Also, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, and Croatia dedicated the 13th December to this festivity. That day it is common to eat Lussekatts, buns flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins, for breakfast.
On the day of Christmas Eve, Swedes usually start off with a Christmas breakfast as an attunement for the planned dinner feast. After that, about 40% - 50% of the Swedish population pauses to sit together with their families and watch the annually Donald Duck Christmas show. Sounds funny? Interestingly enough, this tradition has started in 1959 and has been kept alive ever since. Really, the Disney special ‘Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul’ which basically means ‘Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas’, brings a big part of the Swedish population together at 3 pm every year.
A traditional Christmas Eve meal is Julbord, a buffet that is commonly eaten in three courses. Here, cold fish is playing a big part (e.g. herring, gravlax, etc.). Besides that, odds and ends of typical Swedish meals are dished up. From cold meat (e.g. turkey, roast beef, Christmas ham), over different kinds of cheese, salads, and vegetables, to warm dishes including meatballs, sausages, or meat-stuffed cabbage rolls. In case, you’re not already rolling through the living room after finishing off all these yummy delicacies, there will be a desert including sweet pastries and pepparkakor. Finally, to wash everything down the throat, Swedes enjoy some Swedish schnapps or Julmust which is a cold soda that is explicitly purchased during Christmas time.
When children are talking with bright smiles and shiny eyes about what they wish for Christmas, you most likely pick the word Jultomten up – the Swedish word for Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Like in most countries he delivers the gifts in person on Christmas Eve. For that, usually, a man (e.g. dad’s, grandpa’s) dresses up as Jultomten (i.e. Santa Claus) and knocks on the door with a sack full of presents. Here, the dressed-up character never visits his own family but for instance shows up at the neighbor’s door, keeping the mystery for children alive.
The end of Christmas time in Sweden is initiated by Tjugondag Knut (i.e. Twentieth Day Knut) on the 13th of January – The day, the Christmas tree is commonly taken down and all leftovers are finally being eaten up.