When it comes to coffee breaks, minimalist design and work-life balance, the Swedes just do it better. So, of course we were curious about how our northern friends celebrate the holidays. Here, seven Swedish traditions you can incorporate into your own festivities. God Jul, guys. (That’s Merry Christmas, by the way.)
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 AdventSunday (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 cashmere sweater, we wonder?
5. Everyone Watches the Same TV Show Every Year
Every Christmas Eve at 3pm, 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. 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.)