Swedish Holidays

Swedish holidays: The traditional holidays in Sweden

Swedish holidays are an excellent insight into the traditions and unique culture of the country. Just like most other countries, Sweden has a variety of public days celebrated by the locals (and the occasional visitor).

In Sweden, public holidays are referred to as röda dagar, or red days — they earned this name due to the color Swedish people use to mark the days on their calendars.

Sweden also categorizes its holidays as either “Christian” or “non-Christian”. Some popular days are common all around the world, like Christmas, and Easter, while others are lesser known, like Ascension, Midsummer, and Swedish National Day. 

Let’s take a closer look at the Holidays in Sweden each year, so you know exactly what to prepare for when you plan your visit.

Holidays in Sweden: Swedish traditions

Sweden has more than a dozen “red days” to celebrate each year, and some counties and municipalities even choose to observe additional “holiday days” for the locals. 

Holidays falling on a weekend in Sweden generally aren’t celebrated another day — which is a common practice among other European countries. However, there is an exception to this rule with the “Ascension” celebration. 

Since Swedes love to party, it’s common for celebrations to begin the day before the official festivities. Many businesses close at lunch time so employees can go home to prepare for the festivities. 

If a holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, many employees also get the extra day between the holiday and the weekend off too. Locals call this a “squeeze day”.

Celebrating holidays in Sweden is usually a big deal. There are tons of Swedish traditions associated with public holidays, and locals follow them to the letter. Each day has its own selection of activities, unique foods to eat, and so much more. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest national holidays in Sweden. 

Date Holiday Name Swedish Name
All Saints’ Day Alla helgons dag
Father’s Day Fars dag
Christmas Eve Julafton
Christmas Day Juldagen
Second Day of Christmas Annandag jul
New Year’s Eve nyårsafton
New Year’s Day Nyårsdagen
Epiphany Trettondedag jul
Good Friday Långfredagen
Easter Sunday Påskdagen
Easter Monday Annandag påsk
Walpurgis Night Valborg
Labour Day Första Maj
Ascension Day Kristi himmelsfärds dag
The Friday after Ascension Day Himmelsfärdsdag fredag
Mother’s Day Mors dag
Pentecost Sunday pingstdagen
National Day Sveriges nationaldag
Midsummer Eve Midsommarafton
Midsummer Day Midsommardagen
Swedish Holidays

January 6th: Epiphany (Trettondedag Jul)

Epiphany is a Christian celebration in Sweden, celebrating the visit of the Magi to the young baby Jesus. The day has different celebrations depending on where you are in Sweden, but often, this day features a church service, lots of singing, and even house blessings.

There aren’t as many traditions in Sweden around Epiphany today as their used to be. The big day used to involve a “star boy” dressed in white clothing, and families used to go door to door asking for candy. 

Food often includes mulled wine, saffron buns, and even a smörgåsbord

For less religious people, Epiphany tends to be a time to catch up on rest after the Christmas celebrations. 

January 13th St Knut’s Day (Tjugondag Jul)

The twentieth day of Yule, or January 13th, marks the official end of the Christmas celebrations in Sweden. The day still includes a dance, where people take the Christmas tree out of their house and dance around it, complete with songs. 

There’s often a feast involved too, with plenty of left-over holiday foods.

Today, St Knut’s Day isn’t officially a public holiday, but it’s a time when most locals will have some kind of small celebration. It can also be a wonderful time to finish off any candy left hanging on the tree or around it before you move on with the remainder of January.

Swedish Holidays

47 Days before Easter: Shrove Tuesday (Fettisdagen)

Shrove Tuesday, or Fettisdagen, can fall at a different time each year. This is one of the Swedish celebrations you may be familiar with elsewhere in the world. Traditionally, it marks the day before Christians begin their fast for Easter. 

As is popular for any Easter celebration, Shrove Tuesday often features sweet treats. Semlor is the most common food of the day — a cake-like bun filled with almond paste and whipped cream. You can find countless cafes and supermarkets selling pre-made Semlor buns around Easter.

If you’re a creative type, you might even consider making some Semlor buns of your own this year. 

February-March: Sportlov

Usually taking place somewhere between the 7th and 10th months of the year, Sportlov is an amazing insight into Swedish holiday traditions. This break represents a time of year where entire families can go skiing and enjoy some winter sports. 

The one week school holiday has its origins in World War 2, when it was often too expensive to keep schools running during the coldest months of the year. 

Parents in Sweden use this opportunity to get their children taking part in all kinds of active experiences, including skiing, indoor swimming, and ice skating. Children too young to go swimming often visit museums, or simply spend time with family. 

Swedish Holidays

25th of March: Waffle Day (Våffeldagen)

The UK has Pancake Day, and the Swedes have Waffle Day. If a whole day dedicated to eating waffles isn’t a reason to move to Sweden, we don’t know what is. 

During Waffle Day, most people spend the day eating heart-shaped waffles. The food is usually topped with whipped cream, cloudberry jam, fresh berries, and other treats. 

As you might expect if you’ve visited Sweden before, most Waffle Days combine waffles with a delicious cup of extra-strong coffee. The day actually has some Christian origins. 

According to insights into Swedish holidays and traditions, the day marks the moment when Mary was told she would be giving birth to God’s son.

April: Good Friday

Falling on the 2nd of April for 2021, Good Friday marks the start of the Easter celebrations in Sweden. It’s a time when Swedes begin to celebrate the end of a long and dark winter. Most of the time, church services are held in the afternoon, between the hours of 12 and 3pm, to remember the time Jesus was crucified on the cross. 

Most businesses and schools close on Good Friday, just like you’d expect in most of Europe. The day often involves lots of preparations for the official Easter celebration.

April / March: Easter

Easter for 2021 fell on the 4th and 5th of April. Swedish holidays and traditions around Easter are a little different from what you might expect from other countries. Rather than Easter Egg hunts, the Swedes take time in Easter to dress their children up as witches. 

The little witches go from house to house (just like Halloween), and offer neighbors paintings and drawings in exchange for sweet treats. Common foods for the day include pickled herring, eggs, and plenty of chocolate too. Salmon is a popular meal during Easter too. 

Swedish Holidays

30th of April: Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton)

Walpurgis Night marks the arrival of Spring, similar to Easter. The forms of celebration available to locals often vary in different parts of the country, and between various cities. Walpurgis celebrations are a public event, where local groups often organise bonfires, speeches and singing. 

The day is quite an unusual one, but it’s something many Swedish regions make a big deal of, with celebrities often getting involved with the festivities. Fireworks and folk songs are a huge part of the event — and it’s a great time for people to come together.

1st of May: Labour Day 

Labour day falls the day after Walpurgis Night on the Swedish calendar — which means many people use the time to simply recover. The traditional workers’ day often involves many demonstrations and parades around the town, with flags, banners, and a general love of Swedish culture.

40 days after Easter: Ascension Day (Kristi Himmelsfärdsdag)

Ascension Day is a public holiday often falling on a Thursday. This means it’s common for the Swedish holidays and celebrations around Ascension Day to happen over a full four-day period. The Swedes mark Ascension Day as the first day of the Summer when fishing can begin.

Throughout history, the day has often involved huge fishing tournaments. According to history, the quality of the catch on the first day marks the potential of the entire fishing year. Churches often have services on Ascension Day, but picnics in the park are common too. 

50 days after Easter: Pentecost / Whit Sunday

Pentecost is another example of one of the many Christian Swedish national holidays. Otherwise known as Whit Sunday, Pentecost is the day when Swedes remember the disciples and apostles first being visited by the Holy Spirit, to spread the word of God. 

For 2022, the day will fall on the 5th of June. On this day, it’s common to dress in red and visit a church on the morning. According to traditions, the red is representative of the flame of the holy spirit. 

After the church celebration, the family often goes out into the parks and forests for picnics, and to enjoy the warmer weather.

Swedish Holidays

6th of June: Swedish National Day

The National Day of Sweden is a huge deal in the country. If you’re thinking of moving to Sweden, prepare to celebrate with gusto every year. This day often involves the King and Queen of Sweden, taking part in a ceremony at the Stockholm open-air museum. 

The event includes a flag-raising ceremony, and you’re likely to see a lot of blue and yellow everywhere on this day. Children often dress up in traditional customs to dance and present the royal family with flowers too. 

For expats, special ceremonies welcoming new citizens to the country can often happen on Swedish Day. 

June: Midsommar 

Falling on June 25th and 26th for 2021, Midsommar is one of the best-known Swedish celebrations in the world. As one of the most significant major holidays in Sweden, Midsommar often involves huge events and parties all around the country. 

The official two-day celebration includes dancing around maypoles, eating, drinking a lot of alcohol, and singing.

Provided the weather is good, most of the Midsommar celebrations in Sweden will happen outside, where people can enjoy the beautiful weather and soak up some sun. It’s common to see town squares, parks and village greens packed with people. 

August: Surstromming Festival

Following Midsummer — a time full of feasts (and lots of fish), the Swedes also celebrate Surstromming day. Common in the North of Sweden, this day involves eating a tin of some of the world’s smelliest food. 

Though not technically a public holiday, these days are common throughout Northern Sweden, and often take place outside. If you’re visiting the country, it’s worth seeing if you can drop in on a party or check out the celebrations. Just be prepared for some serious smells.

The Saturday closest to November 1st: All Saint’s Day

Otherwise known as “Alla Helgons Dag,” All Saint’s Day is a kind of alternative to Halloween in Sweden. During this day, the Swedes head to the cemetery to perform rituals honoring the dead, and commemorating their loved ones. 

Though a little sad, All Saint’s Day is a wonderful thing to behold if you’re ever present in Sweden at the time. Some of the biggest cemeteries gather huge amounts of people—up to 50,000—who all gather to leave candles on graves. It’s a beautiful image. 

Swedish Holidays

6th of November: Gustav II Adolf’s Day

This day isn’t technically among the public holidays in Sweden, but it’s something you might encounter if you visit Gothenburg during the winter. The event includes low-key celebrations throughout Gothenburg to celebrate the death of King Gustav II Adolf during 1638. 

Usually, you’ll find a lot of cake around the city on this day, including the sale of a special cake decorated with a marzipan or chocolate figure of the ancient king.

The four Sundays before Christmas: Advent

Advent is a special time leading up to Christmas in the Swedish holiday calendar. Marking the beginning of the traditional Swedish Christmas celebrations, these days involve Swedes lighting a special candelabra. 

Songs are sung by the church choir, and most people stock up on mulled wine, known as glogg to commemorate the events.

13th of December: St Lucia Day

Another special day to mark the beginning of the Christmas season, St Lucia’s day commemorates the death of St Lucia, while getting people in the holiday spirit. Falling on the 13th of December, the day is often a time for church services and singing. 

The official celebration often involves a procession of singing girls in white gowns, holding candles, and wearing a wreath of (unlit) candles in their hair.

Like most major Swedish celebrations, you can expect to see plenty of food and treats during this day. Saffron buns are a common choice, alongside plenty of Glogg.

24th– 26th of December: Christmas

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Christmas is one of the most important holidays in Sweden — just as it is in most of the Christian world. 

The Swedes have a lot of unique Swedish traditions to follow around Christmas, starting with a smörgåsbord feast on Christmas Eve, and a candlelit event at your local church. 

Food celebrations include ham, fish, and pork. 

Swedish holidays and celebrations around Christmas usually involve presents being opened in Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day. There’s a special rice pudding meal with an almond in it, and tradition says anyone who finds the almond will get married within the year.

On the 26th of December, known as the second day of Christmas in Sweden, there’s often a lot of rest and relaxation to enjoy. People eat some of their leftover Christmas food on this day, and enjoy moments spent with family

Swedish Holidays

31st of December: New Year’s Eve

Swedish people celebrate New Year’s Eve just like the rest of the world. The end of the year often features a lot of fireworks, partying, and drinking. You can celebrate anywhere in Sweden, though Stockholm is the most obvious place to see the traditions in action. 

Usually, New Year’s Eve also includes a dinner involving sparkling wine, shellfish, and a lot of snacks. Some people even start the celebration days before New Year’s Eve.

1st of January: New Year

Finally, the new year is celebrated with more fireworks, plenty of snacks, and a host of shellfish-based meals. People use this time to relax and reflect on the year before with family. Many Swedes like to enjoy New Year’s Day with plenty of mulled wine and other drinks too.

Celebrating Swedish holidays

Swedish holidays are a unique way to see behind the scenes of Swedish culture and learn a little more about the locals. Many of the major holidays in Sweden are similar to our own, but the Swedes also have their own unique traditions worth looking at too. If you’re planning on booking a trip to Sweden, why not arrange your trip around one of these events? 

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