Family traditions and culture are never seen more clearly than they are during the Christmas season. Christmas in Sweden is marked by a number of historical traditions and festivities that are still widely practiced today. It is always interesting to study these traditions in light of our own and enjoy the many different ways that Christmas is remembered.
Counting the Days
Most homes have an Advent calendar and children usually have their own. The first Sunday in the month of December is known as Advent Sunday. Families begin to count down the days until Christmas using an Advent calendar; children are especially fond of these calendars. Although there are many variations of this calendar, most have a flap for each day that opens up with a Christmas picture inside and a treat, usually chocolate.
Families and friends usually exchange thoughtful handmade gifts that they either make themselves or purchase at the Christmas Market. Gifts of candy, ornaments and other special favors are wrapped and sealed with special sealing wax. Many people include a heartfelt verse or note with their gift.
St. Lucia’s Day
St. Lucia is known as the patron saint of light, and most Christmas festivities begin on St. Lucia Day, December 13. Traditional celebrations begin with the oldest daughter dressing early in the morning, before anyone is up, as the “Queen of Light.” She puts on a beautiful white dress and a crown made of woven leaves and candles. She visits each family members bedroom and sings “Santa Lucia,” while she delivers coffee and sweet breakfast treats.
Unlike many people in America who get their Christmas tree weeks before Christmas, Swedes get their trees just one or two days prior to Christmas. Homemade ornaments and figures of Christmas gnomes are used to decorate along with lights.
The lights are turned on the tree after dinner. Tomte, a tiny Christmas gnome, much like America’s Santa Claus, delivers Christmas presents. He comes to each house in a sleigh that is pulled by a goat.
Christmas Day Meal
The Christmas meal is served around midday and a common tradition involves dipping bread into an iron kettle containing broth. This practice is a reminder of times when there was very little food to go around, and many people were hungry. However, this is quickly followed by a large meal with dried fish, ham, pork sausage, spiced breads, herring salad and boiled potatoes. The meal is followed by a wide variety of sweet treats including pudding, pies and cakes.
The day after Christmas is known as “Second Day Christmas” and a day for singing carols. January 5th is known as the eve of the Twelfth Night. Boys dress up like Wise Men and travel around to different homes with lit candles on a pole that is topped with a star, singing carols. St. Knut’s Day is on January 13th. Adults in the home take down the Christmas decorations while children in costumes pick candy from the tree.