Christmas, called Jul in Swedish, is a very important holiday in Sweden. As the days start getting very short and dark in November, Christmas is the event to look forward to and Swedish people take it very seriously. The entire month of December is considered a countdown to Christmas and many count the four Sundays leading up to Christmas by lighting an advent candle and attending Christmas concerts.
There are many similarities between Christmas in Sweden and the rest of the world. Like in many other countries, receiving gifts, spending time with family, eating good food and decorating a Christmas tree are all part of the Swedish Christmas, but there are some traditions and events that make Christmas in Sweden unique.
For one, Christmas in Sweden is all about bringing light to the dark and cold days of winter. Entire cities are decorated with Christmas lights and one can see advent stars hanging at every window. All the lights make up for the fact that it gets dark at 3 p.m. and are a reminder that people are capable of creating their own light in dark times.
The importance of light during Swedish Christmas is further emphasized by a celebration on the 13th of December known as Saint Lucy’s Day, or Lucia. The celebration is a Christian holiday commemorating the life of a young Christian girl called Lucia, meaning light in Latin, who was killed in the 4th century for bringing food and aid to persecuted Christians hiding in the Roman catacombs. According to legend, young Lucia wore a wreath of candles on her head to light her way in the darkness and leave her hands free for delivering food.
The holiday of Santa Lucia dates back to before the arrival of Christianity in Sweden. In the old calendar, used before the change to the Gregorian calendar in 1753, December 13th was also the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. Before the day became Santa Lucia, it was the pagan festival of light and it marked the day after which the days in the Northern hemisphere started getting longer again.
Aside from Santa Lucia, which is only celebrated in a few other countries, the Swedish Christmas also has its own unique food. The julbord, which translates to Christmas buffet and is the equivalent of Christmas dinner in other places, is eaten on the 24th of December and consists of a multitude of dishes. Some of the most traditional dishes are raw herring (marinated in different sauces), smoked salmon, Christmas ham and other pork dishes, potatoes (which are never missing in Swedish cuisine), sausages and, of course, meatballs.
Another important Swedish Christmas tradition that takes place on the 24th of December, apart from the Julbord, is watching Disney Christmas cartoons. Since 1959, at 3 p.m. on Christmas eve, one of the main public TV stations broadcasts the 1958 Disney Christmas classic “From All of Us to All of You.” According to data from SVT, the Swedish national broadcaster, around 40-50% of the Swedish population watch the Christmas special every year. It is an essential part of Christmas.
If you are into Disney cartoons, meat and fish dishes and lights all around, you should think of Sweden as your next Christmas destination. You can include a trip up to the North of Sweden to enjoy the northern lights and meet real-life reindeer as well.
From all of us at Iknal Semikan, we wish you a Merry Christmas! Or as they say in Sweden - God Jul!