If you’re planning to be in Sweden for the winter holidays – especially around Christmas and the New Year’s Eve party, you are in for an amazing treat. Swedes love their winter parties and know how to really enjoy this special time of the year.
Celebrating the Winter Holidays in Sweden is a unique experience since it begins as early as late November and ends on the 13th of January – exactly 20 days after the Christmas Day. So, what can you expect during these extended festivities?
A ton of amazing food, families and friends getting together, carols being sung everywhere and people being jolly overall.
Despite the cold weather, people in Sweden will be warmer than ever and there will be all sorts of parties and opportunities for offering and receiving gifts.
It’s indeed the most magical time of the year and you have to experience Christmas – and even the New Year’s celebrations – in Sweden at least once to know exactly what I am talking about.
And just to make sure that you don’t miss anything and you do your own part when it comes to impressing your friends or your loved ones, make sure to check out my article where I shared how to say Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in Swedish.
How is Christmas celebrated in Sweden?
Swedes like to start early with the celebrations, so they won’t wait for the actual Christmas Day to let the magic happen.
Instead, just like in most countries in the region, the Yuletide season begins with Advent. But Swedes push the envelope by gathering at the end of November for a pre-party and good times in anticipation of the even better ones that are coming.
There will be lighting of the Advent candles each Sunday until Christmas Day with families and communities gathering to observe this tradition.
On the 13th of December, you might witness St. Lucia’s Day. There will be numerous portrayals of the life of the young Christian all over but a “national” St. Lucia will be chosen.
She will be garbed in a white dress with a red sash around her waist. A crown of evergreen Lingonberry with candles will adorn her hair.
This is being true to how the young St. Lucia placed candles in her hair so that her hands would be free to carry food into the catacombs where persecuted Christians hid. On this day, young boys and girls also dress up for the occasion.
Many Swedes participate in Första Advent or “The First Day of Advent” and decorate a window in their home with a four-candle setup placed in an evergreen wreath, the first one lighted on Första Advent and the other three on the succeeding Sundays.
The main event starts on Christmas Eve. People wait for the sunset then presents are exchanged.
It helps that the sun sets early in the afternoon for Swedish winters (around 2 – 3 in the afternoon!!).
Don’t be surprised when many Swedes stop at 3pm on Christmas Eve to watch the Disney special “From All of Us to All of You” or in Swedish it’s “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul.” This means “Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas.”
It’s a Swedish tradition since 1959 so don’t ask and just channel your inner child to enjoy the show!
You might find goats made out of straw in front of the Swedish Christmas trees with men and women dressing up as goats playing pranks and singing songs. This is a tradition known as “Julebukking”.
On Christmas morning, people traditionally attend the Christmas church services. Then there’s the “Julbord” – the much-awaited buffet where you will find a plethora of amazing traditional (and not-so-traditional dishes that you will enjoy with friends and family).
The Julbord (which basically means “Christmas table”) consists of a gallery of cold fish dishes from cured and smoked salmon and herring prepared in a multitude of ways.
You will also find generous spreads of cold meats with the “Jukskinka” or Christmas Ham as the star. There endless spreads and sides that are traditionally Swedish plus of course, fruits and vegetables to make the balance.
The feast isn’t complete without some hearty Glogg or mulled wine to wash it down and ending it with a hefty serving of Swedish pastries like pepparkakor (Gingerbread) biscuits!
How is the New Year celebrated in Sweden?
The New Year’s Eve party usually begins in the evening, with a traditional shellfish dinner and even more Glogg – as that is always aplenty during the winter. At midnight, you will usually have fireworks and sparkling wine, then lots of music and good time – including bite-sized snacks until early in the morning.
Ringing in the New Year in Sweden traditionally starts a few minutes before midnight with a poetry reading of “Nyårsklockan” or “Ring Out, Wild Bells.”
The bell tolls the moment the old year turns to new and fireworks light the sky. Of course, the feasts continue onwards, and so does the party!
But apart from the traditional food and the tradition of reading or reciting the poem, I wouldn’t say that the Swedish celebration of the New Year is much different from what happens in other countries – both in Scandinavia and all over the world.
However, if you think the partying is over once the new year settles in, you need to wait until “Tjugondag Knut” (Twentieth Day Knut) which is on January 13.
This is when the Christmas Trees are finally taken down, signifying the end of the Yuletide season and basically the end of the winter holidays.
Your New Year’s resolutions of going on a diet will have to wait until the next day as it is tradition for all leftover holiday sweets and treats to be consumed on this day.
And usually, since there are no leftovers on sight, a new feast is set up just for this occasion. Yummy!
Now that you’ve learned the essentials for celebrating the Swedish winter festivities, it’s appropriate to wish you:
Ha en bra vinterledighet ! (Have a great winter vacation!)
And, as always, if you have your own set of Swedish winter holiday traditions that you’d like to share, please do so by commenting below.