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.
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, marking the 4 weeks of Advent.
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.
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.
An Advent star in a window where I work. Note all the snow on the outdoor table!
Here’s another Advent star…
Photo by: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se
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.
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.
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?
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.
A candle-powered Angel Tree. The angels rotate when the candles burn hot enough.
Lighted arches are also common. Sometimes they have candles, sometime lightbulbs. Here’s one from my office…
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.
“Jultomten” or Christmas trolls…
There are penguins all over the streets of Sweden…not!
Stay tuned for more on Swedish Christmas!