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. Continue reading “Savor Some Christmas Traditions From Sweden This Season”→
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.
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.
Can you find the foot? What do you think it represents?
Largest petroglyph figure in Scandinavia
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.
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.
Lots of pre-Viking vessels
Difficult to see when not painted
Follow the Tanum Heritage markers to see the panels
In summer months, you can see what a bronze age settlement would look like
On the road to Tanum Petroglyphs
Vitlycke 2, 457 93 Tanumshede, Sweden
Interactive experience detailing Bronze Age settlements and artifacts.
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
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.
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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.
Warming up with tea and cardamom in a cozy Swedish Airbnb cottage.
Exploring the Fjallbacka harbor | West Sweden
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 brin 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, 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.
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.
Take the stairs up from Kungsklyftan for views and heathery hiking
Climb up the stairs from Kungsklyftan for views over the Västsverige archipelago.
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.
Gorgeous even in the fog – Fjallbacka in winter.
Don’t miss this delicious local fish market and deli.
Fjällbacka lobster hunting
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.
Winter isn’t coming. It’s here. In Scandinavia at least. Today in Copenhagen, it is cold and dark and damp. To me this is the worst. I’d rather have snow. But the Danes have an answer to combat these shortening days and less than desirable weather. It’s called hygge. You know it. You do. I have talked about it before. More than candles and cookies and cool Danish design, hygge is about creating a space that your community can well, commune in. It’s about moments. A feeling. For me, music helps creating that feeling. Every year I create an alternative Christmas playlist. I love the classics and a carol sung by a choir or two, but music evolves and how I listen to it equally evolves. I like seeing where winter music can take me. And since I now live in Scandinavia – it makes sense that my musical tastes have been swayed by the locals. Let me sway you. Or rather – feel the sway of this beautiful music. I have created a playlist to help UP your Scandinavian winter hygge. I hope you enjoy.
Agnes Obel is a classically trained pianist and her music for me is an updated and modern version of George Winston’s December. I know – super dating myself there. But to be honest, I have not played George Winston since my sorority sisterhood nights in college. Don’t ask. It’s cringy, but sentimental at the same time. Not Agnes’ music though. Pure and gorgeous. Put this on your Scandi winter mixtape, bust out some candles. Light them all. Enjoy. With someone preferably. Now you’ve got hygge.
WHEN YOU TOLD ME IT WAS CHRISTMAS | BODEBrIXEN | Aarhus, DK
Something about this duo from Aarhus conjures the hours and hours and hours I used to listen to my Jesus & Mary Chain cassette on loop. In case you were wondering… YES. Yes it was a yellow Sony Sports Walkman. I’ve already dated myself. See above. Don’t judge. I love this song.
Mr Little Jeans, which might be my new favorite band name ever, is the lovechild of Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes, who now calls LA home. Kicky, swingy and beautifully sung – try not to move to this one. I can feel the Norway AND the California is this fun holiday song.
Listening to Sys Bjerre sing about julefrokosts and brunkager in Danish is amusing and fun. The way she interjects English into the song is much like riding on the train with Danes. All of a sudden you are like, “HEY! I understood what they said!” Oh. Because that was English. Yep. I do understand though (a little too well) her sharing that her underwear don’t fit anymore from enjoying too many marcipan treats. Hahaha!
CODY – which stands for Come On Die Young are based right here in Copenhagen. Known for their own brand of Nordic gloom, this year’s julesang, Christmas song, is all about the angst that coming home for Christmas can bring. Reminiscent of Blitzen Trapper’s Christmas is Coming Soon! and Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal, I love CODY’s vibe and will probably be shouting their refrain all season – “It’s Christmas!” Check out the video to for a traditional Danish Christmas dinner too!
I do love a beautiful Swedish voice and local Alice hits us with hers. You know Malmö is like a suburb of Copenhagen right? (Shhh.. don’t tell the Swedes that!) Lilting and lovely, Be Mine will definitely notch up the hygge this winter. Snuggle in, but be ready to tap your toes.
Then you already know the Swedish group Caesars. Winter Song is from 2005, but it still holds a rich and full sound that is perfect for creating that Scandi hygge – and I find it means more for me now living here – “… running down the icy streets, trying to catch the last sun beam.” I know it will hold a space on my indie Christmas list for a long time.
Dreams today | EFTERKLANG | Copenhagen, DK & BERLIN, DE
In Danish, Efterklang means echo or reverberation. Try to listen to this song and not feel it. Viscerally. I also love their song Modern Drift where the piano and drums push the music, pulling you along in slow and steady rhythm full of a sorrowful sweetness. Creative and evolving, Efterklang is Danish design put to sound.
No Scandi mixtape would be complete without some indielectric syntho pop. I love this one – a collab between long-time Norwegian friends and music producers Hans-Peter Lindstrøm and Thomas Moen Hermansen. When grey days call for hygge socks and warm drinks, add this to your mix.
Ok, ok. So Klyne is not officially Scandinavian. But I have been asked if I speak Dutch after living here in Denmark. (I know, I was just as embarrassed as you!) Because of this, I offer you the tongue-in-cheek inclusion of this Dutch band Klyne. Once you listen – you’ll understand why. Warm energy, delicious beats and yummy vocals. Insta-hygge. The Dutch may call it “gezelligheid,” but it is similar in sentiment.
If you don’t know Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit – stop everything and look them up. Now. The soundtrack to my life across borders here in Denmark includes lots of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderbergs’ gorgeous harmonies and elegant lyrics. I adore My Silver Lining and Wolf. New Year’s Eve is no different. Written in 2012 – it seems especially pertinent for 2016.
Well it’s a new year, with it comes more than new fears.
Met a young man who was in tears, he asked me,
“What induces us to stay here?”
I said, “I don’t know much and I’m not lying,
But I think you just have to keep on trying.”
And I know I am naive, but if anything
That’s what’s going to save me
That’s what’s going to save me
Took a stroll around the neighborhood where the trees are swaying.
People passed in cars with their windows down, with a pop song playing.
A man walked by, walking back and forth the street with a drunken smile to go along.
He stopped to look at me and say, “Child, don’t fear doing things wrong.”
Yet I am still afraid but if anything
That’s what’s going to save me
That’s what’s going to save me
Now I have a lot to learn and I’m starting tonight,
Got to stop looking at things like they’re black and they’re white.
Got to write more songs of a little more, treat my friends better.
Got to stop worrying about everything to the letter.
And sometimes when it’s too hard to get up,
It just might be a little call apart.
But I find it hard to believe, but if anything
That’s what’s going to save me
That’s what’s going to save me
Tell me, tell me
Oh, what’s going to save me?
-First Aid Kit, New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve | Mø | Ubberud, DK & Copenhagen, DK
You may know Mø from her hit Final Song, she is crazy popular here. (And it is not pronounced Mo – see here for the artist pronouncing it herself. Try taking the oo’s in pool and add it’s closer to that.) This year, she has her own version of a New Year’s song – take a listen – her unique voice offers an honest message.
Thanks Erin – but what if I don’t want to click on every song by itself and make my own playlist. NO WORRIES. I already did that. You knew that right? I work in Spotify because I think it is awesomesauce and we got the no-ads version with our Danish phone contracts and when you connect with with Sonos you can play it all over your entire house. WHAT? I know. That was not a plug and I get no kinds of kick-back for saying any of that. But I LOVE it.
I don’t have Spotify though. It ok. Spotify offers a free version. Just after a few songs, you may have to listen to an ad. You can create playlists, share songs and connect with friends. Check it out.
Here’s my list – includes songs shared in this post along with other classic Danish juletunes. Did I miss one of your favorites? Or have another indie Scandi band favorite you need to share – PLEASE – I always am looking for new music. Cheers from Copenhagen and happy listening. Get your hygge on. Erin
Know someone who might enjoy these tunes? Share it!