We say goodbye to our friends celebrating Christmas in Spain and head northeast for 2,675km to Sweden.
Located in Scandinavia in the north of Europe, Sweden covers an area of 450,295 square km and has a population of over 10 million people. They have thousands of inland lakes and coastal islands and are joined to Copenhagen in Denmark by the Øresund Bridge which spans nearly 8km.
The Swedes love a good bit of pop and rock - Some famous names that spring to mind include Roxette, Ace of Base, Robyn, Europe, Avicii (D.J., producer, musician), The Cardigans and who can forget ABBA?
Norway is often seen as the best destination in Europe for the Northern Lights, but some people suggest that Abisko in Sweden is even better. It's not much further south than some of the great Norway locations, and it has more predictable weather.
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Sweden?
In Sweden, they celebrate Christmas on 25th December. St. Lucia's Day is 13th December and Christmas celebrations officially end on 13th January, known as Tjugondag Knut.
Approximately half the Swedish population are Christian, with the Church of Sweden being the largest group.
Christmas Trees are popular in most homes and is only taken down on Tjugondag Knut. A straw ‘yule goat’ ornament is common, hung on the tree or somewhere else in the house, and is said to guard the house. Straw is often placed around the house to remember the manger Jesus was born in and a variety of straw ornaments are usually placed on the tree. In Gävle, a giant straw goat (with a metal skeleton), decorated with lights, is put up at the start of Advent every year. However, it’s a popular target for vandals and in its 50 year history, it’s been burnt down about 38 times.
St Lucia’s Day is celebrated with a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head to represent St Lucia. Many schools and villages will have their own St Lucia to take part in processions during which carols are sung, and a national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias have the responsibility to visit hospitals and nursing homes, singing a song about St Lucia and handing out ‘Pepparkakor’ (Ginger snap biscuits). Boys will sometimes dress up as ‘Stjärngossar’ (Star Boys) and girls who aren’t chosen to be Lucia may be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the crown of candles).
People exchange presents on Christmas Eve, usually in the evening. Presents are brought by ‘Jultomten’ (‘Christmas gnome’/Santa) who’s helped by ‘Nissar’ (male elves/gnomes) and ‘Nissor’ (female elves/gnomes). During the afternoon of Christmas Eve, 40-50% of the population will watch the Disney special ‘From All of Us to All of You’ called ‘Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas’ in Sweden.
On Christmas morning, many people will attend a Christmas Church service. An invisible spirit called the ‘yule goat’ is said to watch over the Christmas preparations in Sweden. Some men, between Christmas and New Years, dress up as goats and go door-to-door singing and playing tricks which is a tradition known as ‘Julebukking’.
Popular on St Lucia’s day are ginger snap biscuits and 'Lussekatts’ (buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins eaten for breakfast). The main Christmas meal is eaten on Christmas Eve at midday and is often a ‘julbord’ (buffet). Cold fish is very common in the buffet with dishes such as herring, gravlax (salmon cured in sugar, salt, and dill), and smoked salmon. There are also many other dishes as part of the buffet such as; cold turkey, cold roast beef, ‘julskinka’ (cold Christmas ham), cheeses, salads, pickles, bread and butter, meatballs, ‘prinskorv’ (sausages), 'kåldolmar' (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), lutfisk (dried cod served with a thick white sauce), jellied pigs' feet, 'revbenspjäll' (oven-roasted pork ribs), red cabbage, potatoes, 'Janssons Frestelse' (matchstick potatoes layered with cream, onion and anchovies that is baked to a golden brown), and 'dopp i grytan’ (bread dipped in the broth and juices that are left over after boiling the ham).
For dessert there’s a variety of sweet pastries, homemade sweets, and pepparkakor (ginger snap) biscuits. A common drink to have with the meal is ‘glogg’ which is sweet mulled wine, and coffee is also popular.
After exchanging the presents on the evening of Christmas Eve, people may eat ‘risgrynsgröt’ which is rice porridge topped with either raspberry jam or cinnamon. Left over ‘risgrynsgröt’ can be eaten cold with whipped cream and a warm fruit sauce (this is called 'Ris a la malta’).
Our next Christmas destination looks at Christmas celebrations in the UK.