Savor Some Christmas Traditions From Sweden This Season

Here are Some Authentic Swedish Christmas Traditions
A SWEDE SHARES HER DECEMBER RITUALS AND A SPECIAL RECIPE

Here in Scandinavia, every December 13th is known as St. Lucia’s Day. In Denmark, Lucia is celebrated with parades of lights through the canals by kayak, but it really is Scandi sister Sweden’s special day. But why is it important? And how do you celebrate it? Maybe we should ask a Swede? Yay! I already did! I’ve asked my Swedish friend Alexandra to share some of her family’s traditions from Sweden. We have been lucky enough to explore southern Sweden with Alex and her family when they lived across the Øresund from us. Alex now lives in Oregon with her husband and two girls, so makes sure to keep the Swedish rituals and recipes alive for her girls when Sverige might seem so far away.


RELATED: FALL IN SOUTHERN SWEDEN | EVERYMAN’S RIGHT TO ROAM

Lucia Kayak Parade | Nyhavn Canal Copenhagen
SWEDISH CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
MEET ALEXANDRA STROMBLAD-BROWN

I love Christmas! In my family and as in most Swedish homes, our Christmases are full of traditions. The Christmas tree is always decorated the same way, the little gnomes are always carefully placed in the same spot every year, the same Advent star is always hung on the same window and the first candle in the Advent candelabra is always lit on the first Sunday of Advent.

A typical Swedish Christmas isn’t just a one-day deal. It’s more of a long drawn out affair that starts with the first Sunday of Advent and ends with “Trettondag Knut” on January 13th, when we actually dance the Christmas and Christmas tree out of our house.

First Sunday of Advent usually falls somewhere between the 27th of November and the 3rd of December. This is where the 4-week countdown to Christmas begins. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday, the second candle is lit on the 2nd Sunday and so on until Christmas, which by the way is celebrated on December 24th in Sweden.

Starting at the First Advent, the prepping of Christmas begins. This includes the prepping of all the traditional Christmas food that is to be made. This is also the time when people gather at each other’s homes and drink a traditional hot drink called glögg. Hot glögg consists of warmed wine, spices and sugar and it is traditionally served with raisins and almonds and enjoyed with gingersnap cookies on the side. It’s yummy and the kids love the tradition too!

SAINT LUCIA DAY IS DECEMBER 13TH IN SWEDEN

Lucia is another December tradition that is loved in nearly every Swedish home and is celebrated every year. Lucia falls on December 13th. Every town in Sweden will crown their own Saint Lucia and have a parade. The main Lucia will come dressed in an all-white gown with a crown of candles in her hair singing traditional well-known songs. She has a red silk girdle around her waist and she is followed by a train of other Lucias. They are also all dressed in white but wearing glitter around their waste and a single candle in their hand. The boys will be dressed as “gingermen” or “starboys”, also dressed in white carrying stars on sticks with tall paper cones on their heads.

My two girls dress up exactly like this waking my husband and me up singing traditional songs and carrying a tray of saffron-flavored buns called lussebullar along with gingersnaps. It is a beautiful tradition.

St. Lucia with her crown of lights and lussebullar
CHRISTMAS IS CELEBRATED ON THE 24TH IN SWEDEN

So finally it’s Christmas Eve. For Swedes, this is our Christmas celebrated on the 24th of December. Every family celebrates it a little differently but the main Swedish traditions are the same. In my family, we would run down the stairs early morning and open one present from under the tree. Then it was off to get ready and dressed up and start prepping the food. The most important meal is lunch. This is the big Christmas table where everything must be included. Foods like the big Christmas ham, different kinds of herring, red cabbage, potato sausage, prinskorv, meatballs, cured salmon or lax, bread, Janson’s temptation, porridge and more. It all must be included. With lunch also comes the singing of traditional drinking songs with the customary snaps. Even the kids will join in on the singing and it really is a wonderful atmosphere. The lunch itself will take up most of the time can last up to two hours.

At 3 o’clock, everybody sits down in front of the television with our lussebullar, gingersnaps and other sweets to watch an hour long showing of Donald Duck and other classic Disney excerpts. It is the same every show year except for the last excerpt, which will always be excerpt for the latest Disney movie. It really is true that the whole entire country comes to a standstill and there is not one house that is not watching.

NOTE: Swedes have been watching the same Disney Christmas classic “From All of Us to All of You” since 1960. Known as “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” in Swedish. Kalle Anka is Donald Duck and a definitive part of Swedish Christmas.

SANTA OR JULTOMTEN

Finally around 5 pm Santa Claus arrives. This is the highlight for my kids! In my house, it is a tradition that my dad will be the one dressing up as Santa Claus or as we say it in Sweden, Tomten. He comes carrying a huge bag of Christmas presents and pretends he flew on his sled with his reindeer all the way from Finland. My girls actually didn’t have a clue that he wasn’t the real Santa Claus until they were six or seven years old. After all the presents are given out, we all dance around the Christmas tree with Santa Claus and then he leaves and we are off to prepare the porridge that will be served with dinner. Nearly all Swedes will eat porridge on this day and hidden in it will be an almond. Whoever gets the almond in their serving has to come up with a rhyme. IAs a reward, he or she will get a small present. After dinner, we play games with all the adults and the kids until late in the night. My girls really love the Swedish Christmas and I think it is because there are so many traditions involved and they all stay the same every year!

Lussebullar-Saffron Buns

Makes about 60-70

INGREDIENTS
  • 10 oz. butter
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 active dry yeast
  • 1 gram of pure saffron
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 12-13 cups all-purpose flour
  • plus 1 egg to beat and brush ove buns before baking

Oven temperature: 480 degrees Fahrenheit

INSTRUCTIONS
  • Melt butter in the pan, pour on the milk and heat to 98.6 degrees.
  • Stir in the yeast and make sure it dissolves completely
  • Crush saffron and mix it in with the milk mixture
  • Add sugar, salt, egg and 7 cups of flour
  • Work in the rest of the flour
  • Let sit with a towel over to rise for 40 minutes
  • Knead the dough and divide into 6 pieces
  • Take part of the dough, roll it and cut into 10 pieces
  • Roll each piece to about 10-inch long line. Shape into the letter S and put a raisin on each twirl
  • Place the buns on a greased baking sheet and let rise with a towel over for about 30 minutes
  • Brush with beaten egg and bake for about 5 min or until they are golden brown.

Enjoy!


Thank you so much to Alex and her family for sharing their Swedish Christmas rituals! God Jul from Scandinavia!

Swedish star from our Christmas in Fjällbacka, Sweden last season

RELATED: FIND YOUR WAY TO FJÄLLBACKA, SWEDEN

Hilary Style
Scandinavian Rock Art | Bronze Age Petroglyphs | Tanumshede Sweden via Oregon Girl Around the World

Scandinavia Rock Art | Tanum Petroglyphs

TRACKING DOWN PRE-VIKINGS

BRONZE AGE Petroglyphs | TanumSHEDE | WEst Sweden

Nearly two thousand years before Viking legend Ragnar Lothbrok and his progeny prowled the fjords and forests of Scandinavia, ancient civilizations were already making distinct marks defining cultures and religions across this region. Oh sorry, hold up – you don’t know of Ragnar Lothbrok? Don’t watch the HBO series, The Vikings? His story is epic. No? It’s ok. Don’t worry. It isn’t required before visiting the Tanumshede petroglyphs. You’ll learn plenty while on site. And anyway, this is about pre-Viking peeps. We’re going all the way back to the Bronze Age. In Scandinavia. West Sweden to be specific. Västsverige.

BRONZE AGE IN SCANDINAVIA | 1500-500 BCE

Scattered along a 25km stretch of what used to be a fjord, circa 1500 B.C.E., the area around Tanumshede, Sweden is home to the largest concentration of Bronze Age rock carvings in all of Scandinavia. Thousands of images have been chipped into the flat rolling granite stone that is characteristic here. And while you need not seek out all 600 panels in existence, you can prioritize a few and get a little more perspective about the ancient peoples who lived on this land.

Location of Bronze Age Petroglyphs | WEST SWEDEN | via Bradshaw Foundation
PETROGLYPHS = rock carving or drawing

The petroglyphs around Tanum aren’t actually carvings per se. And don’t call them decoration. Although I can definitely see their graphic potential. They are well executed and super interesting. Anthropologists believe that these images were chipped into the stone to be used as a practicable road map of sorts – outlining the religion, rituals, and hierarchy of these ancient societies. Nowadays, we can readily see them in well-marked and easy to find sites, recognized by UNESCO World Heritage Convention since 1994.

TO PAINT OR NOT TO PAINT

Many of the images on the panels have been highlighted in bright red or white paint. And although controversial from a preservation perspective, I will admit the color helps instantly identify the iconic imagery and makes it fun to find. Especially when you are searching for specific shapes sited on the nearby signs; luckily presented in several languages. When looking at those panels that are not painted, the distinctive shapes become decidedly more difficult to discern. I truly believe my children would have been much less interested in the outing without the colored, easy to read pictures.

LITSLEBY – ROCK OF THE SPEAR GOD

We stayed in nearby Fjällbacka and made a half-day trip to check out some of the panels at Litsleby and Aspeberget. Litsleby is famous for its depiction of a Spear god, possibly even Odin, the leader of the Norse Gods. Standing at 2.3 m, this is the largest figural petroglyph in all of Scandinavia. He is impressive. All of him. Is that a spear in your hand or are you just happy to see me? Hello, Odin.

Scandinavian Rock Art | Bronze Age Petroglyphs | Tanumshede Sweden via Oregon Girl Around the World

And while the king of Nordic Mythology may have had the largest (you know what) my favorite depictions were of the vessels. (Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much “Vikings.”) But the elegant and easily recognizable ships seemed to sail across the stone. Besides dozens and dozens of ships, we could also point out reindeer and humans and bulls and balls. I’m not being cheeky. It’s true. They’re all there. And it was truly entertaining traipsing around Tanum to find them. Even in winter, when the weather can be windy, we had fun climbing around rocks in the West Sweden hills.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

VITLYCKE MUSEUM 
Vitlycke 2, 457 93 Tanumshede, Sweden
Interactive experience detailing Bronze Age settlements and artifacts.
OPEN:
Every day May-September 10-18:00 plus Saturday and Sundays starting late March and into early November. Check website for details.

STAY In TanumSHEDE:

Tanum Camping
Vitlycke 4, 457 93 Tanumshede, Sweden
Tel +46(0)525 200 02
Conveniently located across the street from the museum; cabins and plots for rent.

STAY IN FJÄLLBACKA:

Stora Hotellet Bryggan
Ingrid Bergmans Torg
Reception: Galärbacken 2, 457 40 Fjällbacka, Sweden
Tel: +46 (0)525-76 50 20

STAY IN Grebbestad:

Tanum Strand Hotel
Tanum V, 457 95 Grebbestad, Sweden
Tel: +46 525 190 00

AIRBNB

As a family of five, we prefer the space and flexibility of renting a home or apartment. There are many for rent in this area, start by searching near Fjällbacka and Grebbestad, both adorable outposts with groceries, shops, restaurants and things to do. Never used Airbnb? Click here to get 255Dkk off your first booking. Not in Denmark? Don’t worry – your discount will convert to the correct currency.

Know someone who might be interested? Share it! Want to see them for yourself? Save it for later!

Scandinavian Rock Art | Bronze Age Petroglyphs | Tanumshede Sweden via Oregon Girl Around the World

 

Suitcases and Sandcastles
the Pigeon Pair and Me
Find your way to Västsverige | Discover West Sweden in Fjällbacka via Oregon Girl Around the World

Find your way to Fjällbacka, Sweden

West Coast of Sweden | Västsverige

Picture this. A European sized rental car jammed to the gills with two growing teen brothers and their not-so-little tween sister. Shove in the majority of the Christmas dinner fixings, all the wrapped gifts as well as some that weren’t, stockings to hang, candles to light, fishing poles, winter clothes, and wellies. We’re going on a road trip to Sweden. Or rather. We went. To little Fjällbacka, Sweden. I want to take you along.

HELSINGØR-HELSINGBORG FERRY CROSSING

From Copenhagen, it is only a five-hour drive north to little Fjällbacka, Sweden. A mere 400 kilometers. That’s 250 miles if you work in those. Doable in a day. Even with a packed car and unconvinced children. It doesn’t feel so far really, especially when you punctuate the trip with the quick and efficient ferry crossing between Helsingør, Denmark and Helsingborg, Sweden. You can book ahead online and save some money. But if you’re anything like our family, we need the flexibility of rolling up and catching the next ferry whenever we actually make it to the terminal. Luckily here, there are crossings every thirty minutes, so you never have to wait for long. If you haven’t already, you can buy a ticket right at the terminal from the automated machines, then proceed to your designated lane.

SWeDISH BORDER PATROL

Don’t forget your passports. There is a border check before you board. To avoid an issue, a valid identification is recommended for all members traveling with you. It is a simple and easy procedure, just don’t forget or you won’t be allowed to cross. When instructed, roll on board the M/F Tycho Brahe or the M/F Hamlet (appropriately named for the nearby Elsinore Castle which Danes claim is the home of the Shakespearean prince.)

Once aboard, lock in or bring with your valuables, as you aren’t allowed to remain in the car for the crossing. And don’t dally. Chop chop. Hurry upstairs toot suite. With only twenty minutes between the countries, there’s just barely enought time to grab a snack, peruse the Duty-Free, stock up and get back to your car before landing across the sound. The Øresund.

NORTH TO FJÄLLBACKA, SWEDEN

Once in Sweden, follow the signs towards Göteborg. You will remain on the E6 for most of the drive to charming little Fjällbacka on the west coast of Sweden. This is Västsverige. West Sweden. We rented a cozy cottage from Airbnb near the water.

Never tried Airbnb? We love the flexibility, charm and homey feel of staying in an apartment or private home when we travel. Being able to save costs while cooking part of our meals in an added advantage. Space for growing children to claim – that we all can get behind.

Click here for 255 Dkk off your first booking at Airbnb.

MURDER MYSTERY TOUR – CAMILLA LÄCKBERG

Fjällbacka is famous for a few things. Lobsters. Ingrid Bergman. And murder. Or murder mysteries rather. Local writer Camilla Läckberg’s popular crime series is set in and around little Fjällbacka. I hadn’t read any of her books, but now have them on my list! If you are a big fan of the series, you can take the Murder Mystery Tour nearly every Saturday, starting again mid-February. You will learn some history of the fishing village and get a first-hand look at infamous sites set in the books; led by the author Camilla herself. For more information and bookings, see here.

INGRID BERGMAN

Ingrid Bergman, of Casablanca fame, grew up spending summers here on her family’s little island, Dannholmen, off the shores of Fjällbacka. The town clearly feels a deep connection with the Swedish actress and has named their center plaza Ingrid Bergman Torg where you can relax and get an intimate look at her life and family time here in Vastsverige. With littles in tow, you may enjoy the small playground situated nearby, beneath the huge granite cliffs that border the village.

KUNGSKLYFTAN

Close to Ingrid Bergman Torv, you will find the arched entrance to the Kungsklyftan. The Royal Gap. Take the stairs and scramble up over the rocks. Don’t worry, no special equipment or experience is necessary or required. You will soon come to a large channel between two granite cliffs. Wedged overhead are four enormous boulders. Up here even on a windy day, the channel is serene. The Nordic light was raking through in its winter zenith. Low and pointed and beautiful. It felt other worldly. To me. I can’t assure you the teenagers felt the same. *Wink, wink. But, we had the gap to ourselves. And it was beautiful. A bonus for a winter visit for sure.

At the end of the Kungsklyftan, you can take stairs to the top of the cliff. I highly recommend the easy ascent. The views from the top over the surrounding archipelago are fantastisk. That’s Swedish for fantastic. There is a path that you can walk to return you down to the other side of the village, but the wind was extreme and we enjoyed the view and returned down the same stairs.

LOBSTER AND SEAFOOD

For all of its famous residents and epic landscape, Fjällbacka is really just a simple fishing village. Herrings. Shrimp. Crabs. Oysters. Mussels. AND LOBSTER. Hummern around these here parts. Västsverige is known for its seafood. Especially the lobster. Black gold, they call it. As it can fetch a more than a fair price at market. Care to pluck the crustaceans yourself? You can. Charters are available, veritable seafood safaris, complete with a full feast afterward. Unfortunately for us, they aren’t available at Christmas. Lobster traps lay dormant upon every dock. Taunting us with treats we wouldn’t be able to try.

We settled for sampling other local seafood specialties from Fjällbacka Fiskaffär down the street – a fresh fish shop and delicatessen. Luckily, we caught it open in the hours before Christmas. And while we may have missed the local lobster and oysters, I can highly recommend their house-cured gravlax (salmon) and the unassuming Fjällbacka seafood salad – a Swedish staple done to perfection. Filled with crab meat, shrimps and fish in a dilled mayonnaise and soured cream mixture delicious on toast.

FJÄLLBACKA OFF SEASON

The mild days of summer bring swarms of sailors and seafarers to this gorgeous Swedish coast. Come winter it’s quiet. And charming. And personal. Literally, it felt like we were only a few of the people here this past Christmas. It was perfect. For me. Easy to explore. Serene to soak in.

Like a little anthropology with your travels? You’ll love the region even more. Sporting the highest concentration of Bronze Age petroglyphs in Scandinavia – sites around Tanum are easy to find and fun to discover. More on the pre-Viking peeps in an upcoming post.

Happy New Year friends. I hope it brings you adventure and exploration. In your here and your there. Best wishes for a Godt Nytår from Denmark! Cheers, Erin

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Find your way to Västsverige | Discover West Sweden in Fjällbacka via Oregon Girl Around the World