When it comes to baked goods, minimalist design and baby names, the Swedes just do things right. So, of course we were curious about how our northern friends celebrate the holidays. Here, nine Swedish Christmas traditions you can incorporate into your own festivities. God Jul, guys. (That’s Merry Christmas, by the way.)
9 Swedish Christmas Traditions We Might Just Be Copying This Year
1. They Build Up the Anticipation
Although the main event is celebrated on Christmas Eve, Swedes know that waiting and preparing is half the fun. On Advent Sunday (four Sundays before Christmas), the first of four candles is lit to start the holiday countdown, usually while enjoying a mug of glögg (mulled wine) and gingerbread cookies. Then, every Sunday an additional candle is lit until finally, it’s Christmas.
2. Decorations Are Subtle
No surprises, here. In classic Scandi style, Swedes keep their holiday decorations natural and rustic—nothing flashy or loud. Think wreaths on doors, hyacinths on tables, candles in every room and straw ornaments.
3. Presents Are Handed Out After Dark
Forget jumping out of bed to tear open your gifts as soon as you wake up. In Sweden, kids and grown-ups wait until the sun sets on Christmas Eve before seeing what Santa left them underneath the tree (never in stockings hung above the fireplace with care). Of course, it helps that darkness falls around 2pm in most parts of the country, so impatient people don’t have to wait too long.
4. And They’re Wrapped with a Rhyme
No store-bought tags for those crafty Swedes. Instead, wrapping is kept simple and the giver will often attach a funny poem or limerick to the package that hints at what’s inside. Hmmm… what rhymes with chunky cardigan, we wonder?
5. Everyone Watches the Same TV Show Every Year
Every Christmas Eve at 3 p.m., Swedes gather around the TV to watch a series of old Donald Duck (“Kalle Anka”) Disney cartoons from the 1950s. It’s pretty much the exact same cartoons every year and even grown-ups join in. Bizarre? Sure. Kitschy and sweet? You bet.
6. The Main Meal Is Served Buffet-style
You may be familiar with the Swedish concept of smorgasbord, and on Christmas Eve Swedes celebrate with a julbord. Fish features heavily (smoked salmon, pickled herring and lye-fish), plus ham, sausages, ribs, cabbage, potatoes and of course, meatballs. Meaning that there’s basically something for everyone (even picky Aunt Sally).
7. They Dip in the Pot
While most of the holiday menu is served buffet-style, there is one communal element of the julbord—dopp i grytan, aka dip in the pot. After cooking up the Christmas ham, the broth in which it boiled is strained and reduced then placed on the table for everyone to reach over and dunk in hunks of bread. It's basically a very salty—and very delicious—fondue.
8. Followed by Rice Pudding in the Evening
Because you can never have enough food during the holidays, right? After indulging in a julbord for lunch, an evening meal of rice pudding made with milk and cinnamon is served. Traditionally, the chef puts a single almond into the pudding and whoever finds it will get married in the next year. But Swedes know to save some pudding in the pot—leftovers are served for tomorrow’s breakfast after being fried in butter and topped with sugar. Back in the day, farmers would also leave out some pudding for the farm tomte, a gnome who would take care of the barn and animals if you stayed on his good side. But if you annoyed the tomte (say, by not sharing some of your delicious rice pudding) then your animals could get sick.
9. The Holiday Season Ends on January 13
Just as there’s a clear beginning to the festivities (the first advent), there’s also a defined end. On January 13th (St. Knut's Day), families take down the decorations and dance around the Christmas tree, before tossing it out the window. They also finish eating any remaining Christmas treats. (Maybe just check with your co-op before throwing your tree out.)