It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

Kulturhuset i Stockholm, Jul i fontŠnen.

Sergeltoget is decorated for Christmas The seasonal decorations surround a lighted, glass sculpture by Edvin Öhrström. Photo by: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se

 

We’ve had a ton of snow and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Swedish Christmas celebrations and decorations have a flavor all their own and it doesn’t feel like it’s just like Christmas in any other equivalent country. Sure there are customs adopted from other lands but the result is a uniquely Swedish–feeling holiday celebration.

Advent
By the time that Advent starts, Sweden is experiencing very little daylight and everyone looks forward to the coming of Christmas lights, snow, celebrations—anything to make it seem lighter. People remind each other that the Winter Solstice is not that far off and then the days will start getting longer again. On the first Sunday of advent (the four weeks before Christmas), many people light the first of four special candles—one for each week of Advent. Each week, another candle is lit.

Simple Advent candles

Simple Advent candles, marking the 4 weeks of Advent.

 

Lucia
On the 13th of December, Sweden celebrates Lucia, one of the few saint days observed. There’s been plenty posts about this day (use the Search field above), so I won’t give you the history. The short version is that girls wear white robes with a head wreath with lights (not usually candles any more—ouch!) Boys wear white robes as well and have a pointed hat. They’re called Star Boys. Some boys dress up as gingerbread boys or as elves. Nearly everyone carries a battery-operated or a real candle. Only one girl gets to be Lucia herself and she leads the procession in the school auditorium or elderly home or wherever the procession takes place. Then there’s the singing that accompanies nearly any Swedish gathering.

Like Midsummer, the Lucia celebration remembers the agrarian life of Sweden’s recent past and the contrast between light and dark, warmth and cold.

Lucia means it’s time to eat again. Lucia buns, made with saffron, are called “lussekatter” (saffron cats) because they look like curled up cats with raisin eyes. They are eaten with glögg or coffee. There’s always lots of gingerbread cookies made and enjoyed as well.

 

Christmas & New Year’s (more to come as we get closer)
Christmas presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve with a feast the next day on Christmas. But I’ll write more about that as it gets closer. Christmas is actually drawn out over several days and a lot of people take off the week after New Year’s as well.

 

Decorations

Hanging Advent stars in windows is very popular. The star is a paper star with electric lighting that is hung up on the first Sunday in Advent as a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem. Sometime the stars are on a little stand instead of suspended. The stars are typically red, yellow, or white but I’ve seen other colors as well.

jul star

An Advent star in a window where I work. Note all the snow on the outdoor table!

 

Here’s another Advent star…

 

Fošnster, julstjarna, Stockholm

Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

 

Christmas Tree
Every family decorates its tree differently but strings of lights, tinsel, paper garlands, and small Swedish flags are common. Many people also decorate their tree with straw figures. Many of my Swedish friends wait till Christmas Eve to put up their tree and it stays there through much of January. Some families make sure to put out a special hanging seed arrangement for wild birds at Christmas time.

Julgran

Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

 

Christmas Goat (Julbock)
The Christmas goat is one of the very oldest Christmas symbols in Sweden and is often placed near the Christmas tree. Why a goat? Is Kristin pulling our leg? No, I swear ther eis a Christmas goat! The explanation is complicated. You can read more here.

julbock with  flowers

Here’s a Christmas goat (Julbock) set out with some cheerful Christmas plants at my workplace. Isn’t it nice that someone decorates the office?

 

Angel Tree
I’ve always loved Swedish Angel Trees and I grew up loving them without ever knowing they were Swedish. They used to only have angels that went round and round powered by the heat from the candles. Nowadays you can find them with little mooses and other shapes.

AngelTree

A candle-powered Angel Tree. The angels rotate when the candles burn hot enough.

 

Lighted Arches
Lighted arches are also common. Sometimes they have candles, sometime lightbulbs. Here’s one from my office…

arch

Lighted arch

 

Miniature Figures
It’s common to see all sorts of Christmas elves and trolls in store windows and decorating people’s homes. The penguin is not so common but I couldn’t help taking this photo of one.

 

tomte

“Jultomten” or Christmas trolls…

 

pingin

There are penguins all over the streets of Sweden…not!

 

Stay tuned for more on Swedish Christmas!

  • Monica-USA

    Happy Midsommar Day!!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Monica!

  • http://www.sophiesworld.net Sophie

    Love these photos, Lola! Across the border, we celebrate midsummer as well, but a bit differently. We call it the feast of St. Hans and everyone is out on the fjords, lighting fires on shore and setting off fireworks. Also, we celebrate Midsummer Eve (rather than Day). Some will cross the border and join the Swedish fun on the next day.

    • Anonymous

      Tack Sophie! I’ve always wondered how Norwegians celebrate similar holidays to Swedes. Love the fact that others cross the border to continue celebrating :D

  • vida

    very nice picture … :)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Vida!

  • Germaine Thomas

    Great photos as usual! It was a really great day everywhere in Sweden!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Germaine! Loads of fun.

  • http://matadornetwork.com Carlo Alcos

    Love the photo with the guy holding his fingers behind his butt :)

    • Anonymous

      That’s one of my favorites too :)

  • http://grantourismotravels.com/ lara dunston

    Love your images, Lola! Wonderful job! You’ve captured the light and gaiety wonderfully – love the immediacy. Feels like I’m there. Wish I was too! We’re in a wintery Australia now :(

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much Lara! Hope you guys are doing great. Always love following your travels :)

  • Monica-USA

    I have my Christmas goat and I grew up with the angel tree candles, but we didn’t have the Advent star. I wish we had the similar time off like you do in Sweden for Christmas. We are lucky if you get Christmas day off. We also grew up opening our Christmas gifts on Christmas eve. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Kristin I hope the New Year will bring wonderful adventures for you.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Happy holidays, Monica. I think you should buy an Advent Star this year. Maybe this US store has them. http://www.hemslojd.com/

      • Monica-USA

        Thank you for the link I will look into it. I like the first star you pictured above it is nice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sten-Broth/100000648986514 Sten Broth

    Swedens most famous julbock, the one in Gävle, can be seen on livecam here: http://www.merjuligavle.se/Bocken/Bockenkamera/
    Built every year since 1966, burnt down by arsonists 25 times. Read more on Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%A4vle_goat

    • Monica-USA

      I think they should on New Year’s Eve light the goat on fire as part of a new tradition! :o )

      • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

        People do seem to like to burn the poor thing…sort of a Swedish Burning Man festival?

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Ha! Thanks for sharing those links, Sten. I think I saw that goat one year on the way to skiing. I clicked ont he links…very interesting and I think I can die now because I have read the words in Wiki “…a frenzy of copycat goat-burning across Sweden…”

  • Sanne

    Really looking forward to celebrate Christmas there in Sweden! But I can’t complain because here in Belgium the ‘snowstorm’ is arriving soon … But still ;)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Definitely lots of snow! Very Christmas-y!

  • Christie

    TY Kristen – am so enjoying these blogs! It is still too cold there for me, tho – lol! :)
    Merry Christmas to you from Brenda and I. Hugs to Rabbit, too!

  • Lonnieanixt

    Keep your Christmas Blogs coming, i have always been fascinated by Christmas in Sweden, especially the Lucia celebration, the idea of children greeting Parents, the girls with a crown of candles in their hair..so beautiful

  • Lonnieanixt

    and please more pictures of streets filled with snow

  • Featherlove7

    I love reading about your life in Sweden. Please more pictures! The penguin is so cute!
    I noticed that I don’t see Nativity sets. Is this not done in Sweden? (Florida USA)

    • http://nittonniotre.blogg.se/ Emmie KaosFlicka NittonNioTre

      A few people have nativity sets, and some churches do a “gathering” with a live one. Though, the people who have these usually consider them self as believing christians, and there aren’t all too many religious christians in Sweden any more.