I’m not quite sure any other culture is as fanatical about Christmas as the Swedes. The celebrations start at the beginning of the first Sunday of advent and don’t end until after the new year. This year advent was Nov. 29th, and the Swedes started things off in a delicious fashion with a traditional glöggfest – a gathering to imbibe hot, spiced, mulled wine (glögg) accompanied by blanched almonds and raisins, with saffron buns and ginger biscuits. Who doesn’t want hot glögg on a brisk, snow-filled Gothenburg evening?
After the glögg, the cities of Sweden are decked out to the nines, with lights, decorations and more Christmas markets than you can imagine. Gothenburg has not only seven distinct Xmas markets but also the largest one in the country: Liseberg has dozens upon dozens of stalls selling gifts for all, shows, ice skating, holiday delicacies (including of course more glögg) and what holiday market would be complete without St. Nicholas sitting in his workshop to listen to the wish lists of excited children. As if that weren’t enough, the market is bedecked in over 5 million (!!!) Xmas lights to celebrate the seasons.
Speaking of lights, the Swedish tradition that people around the world associate with Christmas, the Lucia festival, a procession of candle-wielding young children dressed all in white, takes place at dawn on the 13th of December. The 400 year-old tradition is played out in churches, schools, hospitals and workplaces around the country and celebrates the midpoint of the Advent calendar. This festival of lights is led by “Lucia”, one of the young girls who is crowned with a wreath of candles in her hair, who is followed by lines of maidens and “star boys” also wearing white gowns and pointed hats with gold stars on them, who in turn are trailed by littler children dressed as elves to end the parade. The spirit of the festival is to light the dark, Swedish winter, and spread light and cheer to all and to this end the paraders gaily sing Christmas carols and give out saffron buns and ginger biscuits to the crowds as they go.
Naturally it’s not Christmas without a belly-bulging feast, and the Swedes are no exception. Behold, the famous julbord! From the inventors, and masters of the buffet style smörgåsbord, comes the Christmas julbord, a fantastically filling and table-sagging collection of delicacies including a boilde Christmas ham, pork sausage, gravlax, Swedish meatballs (although they’re simply called meatballs in Sweden), pickled herring, liver paté, potatoes and lutfisk (ling), a special fish dish, all washed down with lashings of beer and schnapps. The traditional julbord also consisted of jellied pig’s trotters, but this has fallen a bit out of favor over the last couple centuries.
And for those who are just excited about Christmas as the Swedes, VisitSweden has some beautiful Christmas eCards for you to send to friends and family! God Jul!