Swedish Christmas traditions

Christmas in Sweden: 11 incredible Swedish Christmas traditions

Christmas in Sweden is an amazing experience. Though Swedish Christmas traditions might seem a little unusual to visitors from other parts of the world, they help to make the festive season particularly special in this unique part of the world. 

Christmas traditions in Sweden revolve around the celebration of Swedish Jul — Christmas for the Swedes. The first Sunday of the Swedish Advent begins around four weeks before Christmas, when people first light their candle in the calendar advent stick. 

The lighting of the candle represents the beginning of over a month of celebrations and amazing traditions, packed with special drinks, party games, and snacks. 

If you’re planning a Swedish Christmas this year, you’re in the right place. Today, we’re going to look at how Swedes celebrate a “God Jul” with a series of incredible traditions.

How does Sweden celebrate Christmas?

Christmas in Sweden

So, how is Christmas celebrated in Sweden?

First, Christmas in Sweden is known as “Jul”, so you wish your loved ones a “God Jul” rather than a happy Christmas. The celebration for most is largely focused on family, and spending time with the people you love. 

By the time the Advent begins, most Swedish locals have thoroughly cleaned their homes and decorated the property with all kinds of ornaments, including Advent stars. 

Christmas starts pretty early in Sweden. “Forsta Advent”, or the first Sunday of the Advent begins on December the first — four weeks before Christmas. 

Like families in other parts of the world, many Swedes will create Advent calendars where children can open little doors to get a gift each day. 

Holiday leave over Christmas and the New Year in Sweden is also surprisingly long. A lot of businesses allow locals to take time off all the way from Christmas Eve into the first week of January. 

Swedish Christmas customs today often blend with modern Christmas celebrations adopted from other parts of the world. This means almost every home in Sweden has its own traditions when it comes to celebrating the festive season.

Let’s look at some of the Swedish traditions most common during Christmas.

1. The Advent (Adventskalendar)

As with other parts of the world, Sweden counts the days to Christmas with an Advent or Advent calendar. 

Interestingly, the idea of counting the days to Christmas from December 1st actually comes from an old tradition in Christianity, based around the idea of “waiting for Jesus”. 

In modern Sweden, of course, most people don’t reference Christianity when counting the days to their main festive celebration. The Adventskalender, or Advent Calendar is more of an excuse to eat a chocolate every morning before school or work. 

While traditionally, advent calendars were intended mostly for children, they’ve evolved over the years, so adults can enjoy their own versions too. Like in many parts of the world, Sweden now offers wine, liquor, and other adult-focused calendars. 

One unique part of the Advent in Sweden is the regular celebration every Sunday, where Swedes light a calendar on their Advent candle. There are four candles to light in total, and the occasion usually includes some delicious lussebullar as an extra treat. 

Swedish Christmas traditions

2. Lucia

The celebration of Lucia is a unique tradition in Sweden. Taking place on the 13th of December, Lucia is one of the oldest Swedish Christmas traditions, which involves girls dressing up in white dresses and robes, with candles placed in their hair. 

For safety purposes, today’s St Lucia celebrations don’t use real candles for the headdress, but battery-operated lights designed to flicker like real candles. 

The St Lucia celebration is a catholic tradition, based around the story of St Lucia from Italy. Lucia was convicted of witchcraft in her youth (hence the fire in her hair). 

In Sweden, the life of St Lucia is celebrated through girls dressing up as the saint, and singing in front of audiences at schools, nursing homes, and workplaces. 

Usually, there’s one girl who is “Lucia”, and she walks in front of the rest of the group, getting plenty of solo performances. 

The rest of the girls are “Tamor” — or maids in the choir. 

3. Kalle Anka och Hans Vänner Önskar God Jul

Most countries around the world have specific shows aired on Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve. In the UK, there’s a speech from the queen, while the US usually broadcasts local parades around the country, alongside plenty of Christmas classics. 

Since the TV became a common appliance in the Swedish household, families have held the tradition of broadcasting hour-long Christmas specials featuring Disney classics. This tradition comes from the 1960s, where animated moving cartoons were very hard to find. 

Today, most people still watch the show because of tradition. 

The special features a number of great clips from Disney movies like Snow White, Cinderella, Robin Hood, and even short movies with Mickey and Friends. The program also shows a couple of previews from up-and-coming Disney movies most years. 

Swedish Christmas traditions

4. Julskyltningen 

Taking place on the first Sunday of the Advent, Julskyltningen translates to the “Christmas Window”. The arrival of this celebration often marks the true beginning of the festive season for most Swedes, alongside the lighting of the Advent candle. 

A month before Christmas, shops and stores set up their Christmas windows, featuring beautiful displays and amazing festive scenes.

If you ever have a chance to visit Sweden during the holiday season, it’s worth taking some time to check out all the displays on offer. Many charity organizations also go out into the street and hand fresh coffee to shoppers, while markets and lotteries appear to raise money for great causes. 

The Julskyltningen celebration is most common in small villages and towns, but many larger stores also get involved, often providing huge discounts on goods for those ready to start their Christmas shopping. 

You might even get your hands on a free cookie or two from local cafes. 

5. Jul decorations

One of the most appealing Swedish Christmas customs for people all over the world today, is the unique approach the country takes to decorations. Everything is chosen with the greatest of care in Sweden, including the traditional Swedish Christmas tree. 

As you might expect from a location in love with minimalism, Jul decorations are often quite subtle. 

Rather than artificial tinsel and flashing bright lights, Swedes prefer to keep their decorations as rustic, and natural as possible. Hand-made decorations are common, along with wreaths on doors, hyacinths on table, and straw ornaments. 

You’ll also find a lot of candles littered around the home during the festive season in Sweden. 

Most Swedish families have their decorations ready by the first advent of December, but some wait a little longer, with decorations appearing around the 13th.

6. Santa Claus (Tomten)

Most countries around the world have distinct traditions when it comes to Santa Claus, and Sweden is no exception. Christmas in Sweden often includes “Tomten”, the Swedish version of the jolly man many people know today. 

Santa has been in Swedish culture for centuries and has evolved from an angry man responsible for guarding local agriculture, into a warm, homey icon with a love of good food. 

Keeping Santa happy, in Sweden relies on your ability to deliver some delicious snacks before the big day.

Swedes usually leave delicious rice pudding made with cherries and almonds on the front porch for Tomten to eat on Christmas Eve. Notably, Swedes also do most of the work of Santa Claus themselves on Christmas Eve, when people gather to exchange presents. 

Most Christmas Eves will involve an adult family member dressing up as Tomten and knocking on the door of the home to provide gifts to the family. 

Swedish Christmas traditions

7. Christmas Eve presents

As mentioned above, gift exchanges generally happen on Christmas Eve in Sweden. Rather than waking up at the crack of dawn, children and adults alike often wait until the sun sets on Christmas Eve, before they begin unwrapping presents. 

Swedish Christmas gifts are always placed under the tree in Sweden (never in stockings hung above the fireplace). Since darkness in Sweden generally falls at around 2pm during the festive season, you don’t have to wait long to start opening gifts. 

One gift-focused tradition in Sweden is to wrap the presents with a rhyme. Wrapping is kept as simple as possible, with twine and simple paper, and the gift giver will usually add funny poems and lyrics to the package as a hint to what’s inside. 

8. Finding the perfect Christmas tree

The Swedish Christmas tree is a crucial part of the festive celebrations. Just as Swedish Christmas tree decorations are kept natural, the tree itself is likely to be an organic affair too. 

Swedes see the tree as the symbol of all-things Christmas, so finding the right one is essential. 

If you live in a town or city, you’ll usually buy your tree in the local square. If you’re living by the country, you get the opportunity to chop down your Christmas tree yourself. 

According to most Swedes, the best Christmas tree will be densely and evenly branched, and capable of standing up straight in the home. Once you bring your tree home, you’ll decorate it according to your specific family traditions. 

Battery-powered fake candles are common, along with Swedish flags

Alongside the tree, many Swedes also decorate their home with hangings depicting Christmas scenes and Swedish fairy tales. 

Swedish Christmas traditions

9. Swedish Christmas food

Traditional Swedish Christmas food, alongside the Swedish decorations and tree, is one of the most exciting parts of the Swedish celebration. A traditional Swedish Christmas dinner will usually take place on the night before Christmas (Christmas Eve). 

The event includes a stunning Julbord, which is basically a smörgåsbord specifically for the festive season. 

The smörgåsbord can include a range of different foods, but one of the most important is the ham joint, which is first boiled, then glazed, and baked to ensure melt-in-the-mouth flavors. 

Food is served buffet-style, but there’s a certain order to follow when you’re choosing what to eat. Most of the time, you’ll start with cold fish and meats, followed by hot foods, and so on. 

The exact food on the smörgåsbord will depend on the family, but usually you’ll find Swedish meatballs, pickled herring, raisin bread, smoked salmon, and beetroot salad. 

10. Sweet treats

Christmas in Sweden is amazing, but it’s not always the healthiest affair. Sweet treats are practically everywhere during the festive celebrations, from home-made candy canes to delicious gingerbread and spicy biscuits to keep you warm in Winter. 

One of the most popular traditional foods for Swedes to eat at Christmas is Lussebulle, which is a kind of saffron bun.

Sometimes called Lussekatt, the bun is a sweet wheat bun with the added taste of saffron and raisins. Usually, bakers will curl the bun into an S shaped, and serve it alongside gingerbread cookies, coffee, and other hot drinks. 

The ultimate dessert for the Swedish Julbord is the rice pudding. Similar to the risalamande in Denmark, Swedish rice pudding is served at the end of the Christmas meal, featuring plenty of cream, sugar, and cinnamon. 

Usually, this dessert will be served with fruit punch, but it can come with glögg and other drinks too. 

Swedish Christmas traditions

11. Plenty of drinks

One thing you’ll have plenty of at a Swedish Christmas celebration — is alcohol. Swedish Christmas glögg is the drink of choice for most families. 

While the adults drink this spicy, warm punch on a daily basis through the festive season, children usually get a non-alcoholic version similar to a fruit punch, as well as plenty of milk and cookies.

Traditional Swedish glögg features bourbon, or port-wine, brandy, red wine, ginger, orange zest, and cinnamon sticks. Most families have their own recipe for glögg, and they’re all extremely proud of their unique creations. 

It’s very easy to start Christmas drunk in Sweden. Aside from glögg, you can also expect plenty of delicious Swedish snaps, as well as hot chocolate, mulled wine, and similar festive drinks. 

How is Christmas celebrated in Sweden?

Christmas in Sweden is an incredible experience if you’re lucky enough to enjoy it yourself. Swedes expect a lot out of Christmas, and many families spend all year planning the celebrations. 

Remember, in Sweden, the Christmas season is usually very dark and cold, so Christmas is a chance to bring some joy back into the world and spend important moments with family. 

Everyone in Sweden does their part to make the Swedish Christmas celebrations as fantastic as possible. Everything from the Christmas tree to the Swedish Christmas food is chosen with care, and the celebrations last as long as possible. 

Officially, Christmas doesn’t end until the 13th of January in Sweden, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy the festivities just a little longer before you begin the new year. 

On the 13th of January, families take down their decorations and dance around the Christmas tree before getting rid of it.

Swedish Christmas FAQs

How is Christmas celebrated in Sweden?

The Swedes celebrate Christmas from the first of December to the 13th of January with fun, games, food, and plenty of family time. The occasion is all about love, being with the people closest to you, and enjoying plenty of great foods. 

What does God Jul mean in Swedish?

In Sweden, God Jul means “Merry Christmas”. Instead of just wishing someone Happy Holidays, local Swedes will often use the words “God Jul”. You’ll also see this term a lot written in Christmas cards and on various decorations. 

What do Swedes eat for Christmas?

Swedes eat all kinds of amazing foods around Christmastime, including a delicious baked ham, amazing rice pudding, and fantastic saffron buns. 

The most important meal of the Christmas celebration is the Julbord — a huge smörgåsbord featuring dozens of different food items. Many families come together to cook different parts of the Julbord for the feast. 

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