Celebrating Christmas in Sweden today
from www.sweden.se - Sweden's official web portal
Christmas is the greatest festivity of the year in Sweden. In former times, it was an occasion for the whole family, when everyone finally had a chance to eat fresh food. Today, the emphasis is on the children and on Christmas presents. In Sweden, Christmas Day and Boxing Day used to be the most important part of the holiday, but nowadays most Swedes celebrate Christmas Eve, 24 December.
In anticipation of the holiday, shops begin selling Christmas articles as early as November. Streets and trees in cities and towns are decorated with festive lighting, and in many places a giant Christmas tree is put up in the main square. Officially, celebrations in Sweden begin on Advent Sunday, when stores display their Christmas shop windows and when many people decorate their own windows with electric Advent stars and candlesticks that light up the home. This is also the day on which the first of four candles is lit and children open the first window on their Advent calendars.
As a prelude to Christmas, many people bake thin ginger biscuits and saffron bread. Each Sunday in Advent, as anticipation grows, a new candle is lit and each day a new window is opened in the children's calendar. During this period, a popular beverage is glögg, a hot mulled wine spiced with nuts, raisins and cloves. It warms both body and soul in the cold, dark Swedish winter.
Lucia Day on 13 December is celebrated in daycare centres, in schools, at workplaces and in the home with a singing, white-gowned 'Lucia' who drops in with coffe and biscuits, leading an entourage of attendants. The Lucia tradition originated in aristocratic circles in Sweden and spread through the population from the 1920s onwards. Each year, a 'national Lucia' is elected at the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm. Lucia Day begins with an all-night vigil celebrated by young people in particular, often in combination with large quantities of alcohol. As a result, the celebrations tend to become fairly disorderly in many areas.
After Lucia, Christmas preparations begin in earnest. People exchange Christmas cards, clean the home and shop for Christmas presents and Christmas food. Each year brings record sales in the shops. A few days before the holiday begins, a Christmas tree is brought into the home and decorated with coloured balls, tinsel and lights. Some people hang up a sheaf of grain outdoors so that birds can also join in the celebrations. Homes are decorated with red curtains and tablecloths, candles, straw figures and little gnomes. People also buy special Christmas flowers for the home, or to give away, such as hyacinths, poinsettias or amaryllises. Candles are lit and wreaths laid on family graves.
Christmas food is prepared ahead of Christmas Eve. People usually try to cook as much of it themselves as they can. The most popular kinds of food are ham, brawn, sausage, rice pudding and pickled herring, but in recent years healthier fare has found its way onto the Christmas table, including salads. Meals are accompanied by root beer or a special Christmas beer, which is slightly darker than the ordinary kind. People also like to down a shot or two of vodka with their pickled herring.
Christmas presents are handed out by Santa Claus after the Christmas lunch, but for many children - and adults - the holiday festivities really begin mid-afternoon with the screening of a Disney Hour, followed by other traditional TV programmes. In Sweden, Christmas Eve is usually celebrated at home with the family, and rarely at a pub or restaurant.
For many people, Christmas Day begins with Christmas matins - a daybreak visit to church - which is a popular tradition in Sweden. Usually, the day is then spent at home with more Christmas food and TV, and possibly a refreshing walk. Boxing Day follows the same pattern. In many divided families, children celebrate Christmas Eve on Christmas Day and/or Boxing Day as well, so as to be fair to both parents. People without families can join alternative Christmas celebrations organised by the municipal authorities, where they are given a meal and perhaps some form of entertainment. Otherwise, they have little option but to consume Christmas via television.
Between Christmas and the New Year, shops and stores hold their Christmas sales. For most, this interim period provides a much-needed rest from work, a time when you can visit relatives, be with your family or prepare yourself for the coming year.
The New Year holiday is celebrated, as it always has been, mostly by young people, but also of course by adults, who organise their own parties or go out to restaurants or discotheques. Traditionally, people dress up in their finest clothes and eat fine dishes - salmon, crab or lobster. New Year's Eve is an important TV event with programmes that are screened every year. On the stroke of midnight, people toast each other in champagne and wish each other a Happy New Year, while the bells chime on radio or TV - or outside in the town. People also make New Year resolutions, usually promising to become a better person. In some towns and cities, there are public firework displays to welcome in the New Year, bringing people out onto the streets to celebrate. Or families fire off rockets from their own backyards or gardens. New Year celebrations are not so much for children as for older teenagers and adults.
On New Year's Day, many people prefer to stay at home and listen to the traditional New Year concert from Vienna on TV. Often, families eat a good dinner together or perhaps visit friends and relatives to wish them luck in the new year. As a rule, the New Year is not considered the end of the holiday period in Sweden. This lasts through the Epiphany (Twelfth Night) weekend, after which school begins. The festive season officially ends on Knut's Day, 13 January, when Christmas trees - which have usually turned from green to a dry, brittle brown - are finally thrown out, the children having played and danced round them for one last time.
Christmas, originally intended to mark the birth of Christ, is nowadays more of a commercial family festivity, offering people in modern Sweden a welcome break from the toils of everyday life.