Around Christmas time in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is Saint Lucia’s Day (or Saint Lucia’s Day) on December 13th.
The celebration comes from stories told by the monks who brought Christianity to Sweden for the first time. Saint Lucia was a young Christian woman who was martyred, murdered for her faith, in 304. The most common story told about Saint Lucia is that she would secretly take food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived hidden in the catacombs beneath the city. He would carry candles on his head, so he had both hands free to carry things. Lucy means “light”, so this is a very appropriate name.
December 13 was also the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ calendar and a festival of pagan lights in Sweden became Saint Lucia’s Day.
The day of Saint Lucia is now celebrated by a girl dressed in a white dress with a red band around her waist and a crown of candles on her head. Young children use electric candles, but from age 12 on, real candles are often used!
The crown is made of branches of Lingonberry that are evergreen and symbolize a new life in winter. Schools usually have their own Santa Lucia and some cities and towns also choose a girl to play Santa Lucia in a procession where carols are sung.
A national light is also chosen. Lucias also visits hospitals and nursing homes singing a song about Saint Lucia and distributing ‘Pepparkakor’, gingerbread cookies.
Young children sometimes like to dress like Lucia (with the help of her parents!). Children can also dress as ‘Stjärngossar’ (star children) and girls can be ‘tärnor’ (like Lucia but without the candles).
A popular meal that is eaten on St. Lucia’s day is the ‘Lussekatts’, saffron-flavored St. Lucia’s day buns and sprinkled with raisins that are eaten for breakfast.
The first day of Saint Lucia was widely celebrated in Sweden at the end of the 18th century. Saint Lucia Day is also celebrated in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia and Croatia. In Denmark it’s more like a children’s day and somewhere in Italy, children are told that Saint Lucia brings them gifts. They leave a sandwich for her and the donkey that helps carry the gifts!
Christmas Eve is also very important in Sweden. This is when the main meal (well, really a banquet!) Is eaten.
It is often a “buffet”, which is a buffet, which is eaten at lunchtime. Cold fish is important in the julbord. Often there are herring (served in many different ways), gravlax (salmon that has been cured in sugar, salt and dill) and smoked salmon.
Other dishes on the plate may include cold meats such as turkey, roast beef and julskinka (a Christmas ham); Cheeses, liver pate, salads, pickles and different types of bread and butter (or mayonnaise). There will also be salty foods, such as meatballs, ‘prinskorv’ (sausages), ‘kåldolmar’ (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), pork legs in jelly, lutfisk (a dried cod served with a thick white sauce) and ‘revbenspjäll’ ( oven) Roasted Pork Ribs). Vegetables such as potatoes and red cabbage will also be served. Another dish of potatoes is the “Janssons Frestelse” (match potatoes with layers of cream, onion and anchovies that are baked in a golden brown). There is also ‘dopp i grytan’, which is bread that is submerged in the broth and the juices that remain after boiling the ham.
The Julbord desert could be a selection of sweets, some pepparkakor cookies and some homemade sweets!
Wow, I think I like the sound of a Jolbord! To download all that food, you can take a little ‘glogg’, which is a sweet wine and some coffee to finish the meal.
Another popular Christmas meal in Sweden is ‘risgrynsgröt’ (rice porridge eaten with ‘hallonsylt’ [raspberry jam]or sprinkled with some cinnamon). It is often eaten during the night after people exchange their gifts.
If there is any remaining risgrynsgröt, when it’s cold it can be mixed with whipped cream and eaten with a hot fruit sauce. This is called ‘Ris a la malta’ and it sounds pretty rich!
The gifts are normally exchanged on Christmas Eve. People often go to church early on Christmas morning.
Another popular and important one that many Swedes do on Christmas Eve is to see Donald Duck. Every year, since 1959, at 3:00 p.m. On Christmas Eve, TV1 shows the Disney special “From All of Us to All You” or in Swedish it is “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” which means “Donald Duck and His friends wish you a merry Christmas”. Around 40 to 50% of the Swedish population stops to see it!
Families sometimes have goats made of straw in the house to take care of the Christmas tree! Straw is used as decoration in homes, to remind them that Jesus was born in a manger. Decorations for Christmas trees that are made of straw are also very popular.
In the city of Gävle, every year an enormous straw goat is built for the beginning of Advent. It has a height of 13 m / 43 feet and it takes two days to hold on! It has a large metal structure inside and is covered with straw. The tradition began in 1966. The first Goat of Gävle Yule burned on the eve of the New Year of 1966 and has since been the target of the Vandals. In its 50 years of history, it has only survived throughout the Christmas and New Year period about 12 times! In 2016, which turns 50, it burned in less than two days!
In Sweden, gifts are brought by Santa Claus who is known as ‘Jultomten’ or simply ‘Tomten’ (meaning ‘The Christmas Gnome’ or ‘The Gnome’). It is often helped by gnomes / elves who are called ‘Nissar’ (male elves / gnomes) or ‘Nissor’ (gnomes / elves).
The end of Christmas in Sweden is on January 13 (twenty days after Christmas) which is called ‘Tjugondag Knut’ (Twentieth Day Knut) or ‘Tjugondag jul’ (Twentieth Day Yule) and is named after a Danish prince called Canute Lavard. In Tjugondag Knut it is traditional for the Christmas tree to fall and eat cookies and sweets.
In Swedish Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘God Jul’. In northern Sami, spoken in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, it is ‘Buorit Juovllat’.