In Sweden, when the warm glow of the paper-stars, the fairy lights, and the candleholders starts to crop up in people’s windows, that’s when you know Christmas has officially started. Truly, there is barely a dark window in sight in my hometown during the month of December. Sweden, as you may be able to guess, can get quite cold and dark in winter, and so us Swedes take it upon ourselves to bring the light and the warmth and to share it with one another. Who said winter had to be so gloomy? Christmas in Sweden really is a twenty-five-day-long affair. You simply cannot escape Christmas beyond December 1st.
Apart from the advent calendars full of chocolates that I was very glad to find out you have here in the UK as well, in Sweden we also have an advent TV-show. Every year they make a new one, and every morning leading up to Christmas Eve, at 7:15, a fifteen-minute episode airs of some Christmas-related adventure. I have many fond memories from when I was younger of sitting on the sofa with my little brother and my Mum, the sun not even up yet, watching the advent episode of the day with a cup of hot chocolate warming my little hands. Apart from Christmas Eve and Day, the most important day of December in Sweden is the 13th on which we celebrate Saint Lucia. Tradition calls for you to wake your loved ones up (to lussa) with a hot drink and saffron buns (which we call lussebullar) which are a staple of Swedish Christmas foods. And if, like me, you’re a bit too much of a sleepy-head in the morning to have time to do this, don’t worry! Schools and churches across the whole country organize Lucia processions (Luciatåg) led by a Lucia, distinguishable by the red satin band she wears around her waist and the wreath of lit candles (oftentimes real ones!) in her hair. And even though Saint Lucia is originally a religious holiday, that is no longer the case in Sweden today. It is merely a day for people to gather and sing and munch on some really tasty saffron buns. Everyone is welcome to participate, or even just watch and listen.
As Christmas Eve approaches, it’s time to start thinking about getting a Christmas tree. According to tradition, you’re not supposed to get one until the 23rd, but most families are too eager to wait until then. It’s quite uncommon to have a plastic tree in Sweden since fir trees abound. They usually sell them in the squares – but it’s important to remember to bring someone with you when you go out to buy one, the trees can be a bit heavy! When my family and I buy our tree, we always put Christmas music on when we get home and spend the rest of the day decorating it together, bickering over the best way to position the lights. It’s a very lovely time. In Sweden, Christmas Eve is actually when the big party happens, as opposed to Christmas Day. In other words, Christmas Eve is when you exchange presents! Another very specific Swedish tradition is that, at 15:00 o’clock sharp on Christmas Eve, families all across the country gather in front of their TV to watch a compilation of clips from old animated movies – we refer to it as Donald Duck’s Christmas. It’s the same clips every single year (Woody the Woodpecker, Ferdinand the Bull, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, and so on), always in the same order and in the same poor quality, but it’s an absolutely essential part of the day. It’s a tradition that has been around for sixty-two years at this point. After Donald Duck’s Christmas, it’s time for the big, highly-anticipated dinner. We call it a “Christmas table” (julbord) because of the way in which all the different foods are spread out across the table, taking up every single inch of space, buffet-style. On the table you will find things like ham, meatballs, and sausages. Sweden, being big on fish, is also sure to have salmon of various kinds as well as herring on Christmas Eve. Another very typical Swedish Christmas food is the so-called “Jansson’s Temptation” (weird name, I know), which is a casserole made out of potatoes, onion, anchovies, and lots of cream. I know it may sound strange, but I promise it’s actually really tasty, and one of my personal favourites on the Christmas table.
Finally, Christmas Day is definitely a day for mainly taking it easy. You can think of Christmas Eve as the Saturday – eventful with lots of socializing and being generally excited that Christmas is finally here – and Christmas Day as the Sunday – much quieter, almost as though time moves in slow motion, but in a really pleasant, cozy way. In my family, we spend Christmas Day enjoying the gifts we’ve received, eating the leftovers from Christmas Eve (there’s always plenty, and they’re always somehow a bit better the day after), and settling into that lovely post-Christmas calm. So that’s what my Christmas looks like, being from Sweden. Writing this has made me wish it would just hurry up and come sooner! However you celebrate Christmas, if you celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s a day full of doing
things you love with the people you love, the way I’m lucky to say it is for me. Merry Christmas, or, as we say in Sweden, God Jul!