A Photo Guide to a Swedish Christmas

If this is your first Christmas in Sweden or your quest to learn about Christmas around the world, you’ve come to the right spot.

I put together a comprehensive guide to having a Christmas in Sweden and abroad. Even if you don’t have access to thousands of tomtar, you can still incorporate Swedish traditions into your own traditions.

There’s so much food and decor to enjoy during the holidays, but it is all about family and giving back to the community.

Swedish Christmas Decorations

swedish christmas decoration
If you are in Stockholm, then I highly suggest shopping at Stockholms Stadsmission to get secondhand Christmas ornaments. You can see from the photo there is plenty of pretty decorations at a good cost, and doing the Earth a favor by recycling.

Julstjärnor – Christmas Stars
starry night
The stars represent the town of Bethlehem.

Julbocke – Christmas goat
Julbocken - Gavle Goat
The Christmas goat is said to check on families that Christmas decorations were done properly. Some folklore tales say the Yule Goat scared the children and demanded gifts.

In Nordic mythology, Thor rode on his chariot with two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. In the Prose Edda, he kills the goats and provides his guests and the gods food. With his hammer, Mjölnir, he resurrects the goats the next day; creating a cycle of sustenance and nourishment.

christmas in sweden - lights

christmas ornaments bokeh
Of course you need ornaments for your tree!

svenska jul
From Design House Stockholm and you can buy them in the US. It’s dark, it’s dark, it’s dark, candles are a must; any size, any style.

Julgran – Christmas Tree
A Charlie Brown Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is put up on the third Advent and stays up until Knutsdag (twentieth day yule) on January 13th.

Kalendarljus – Calendar candle

Jultomte – Santa Claus
Tomten - Swedish Santa

Julgris – Christmas pig
christmas pig decoration

swedish reindeer lights
Who doesn’t love reindeer?!

Swedish Food

Christmas smörgåsbord


A recipe from ICA.

Julsenap - Christmas mustard

lussebullar - saffron buns
Yummy saffron buns! Recipe to come soon!

glögg - swedish mulled wine
You can buy several different flavor from Systembolaget or make your own using wine, vodka or rum.

Annas Pepparkakor
I’ll be posting a recipe quite soon!

Aquavit – Snaps

Julmust - The definitive Swedish Christmas soda

Swedish Christmas Holidays

Christmas Calendar
swedish christmas calendar

Advent Candles
One candle is lit each Sunday before Christmas.

Christmas Eve
Kalle Anka (Donald Duck & Disney)

The Disney special has been on for more than 30 years. It’s the same every year but it is truly a bizarre and fun Swedish Christmas obsession.

Christmas Dinner
The Swedish Christmas dinner is served on Christmas eve after watching Kalle Anka and before opening Christmas presents. The smörgåsboard is several courses, starting with cold meats and fishes, hot food, cheeses, and dessert. And nothing would be complete without toasting with snaps.

Merry Christmas & God Jul!

Warm wishes from Sweden for a wonderful holiday week. I am posting on Dec 25th and not the 24th because I am not used to celebrating Christmas on the wrong day, or eve!

Some photos from around Sweden during Christmastime.

Christmas sunset over Kärna, west coast Sweden
Christmas Sunset over Kärna

Boats on the ice
Boats on the ice

The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree
A Charlie Brown Christmas tree

Shopping in Stockholm at NK
A view to NK christmas lights

All are HDR photos. Eat lots and let us know what Santa brought you for Christmas!

Swedish Christmas Food & Dishes

Swedes love their food and their drinks. Swedish food isn’t very exciting in terms of spiciness or even spices. But Christmas is different. Christmas is full of exotic spices and delicious flavors not normally associated with Sweden. Maybe the cold, dark, endless winter means doing something spunky for food and decorations.
Julskum - A very bizarre Swedish candy
If you are cooking sweets and treats for the Christmas holidays, there are several must haves for the kitchen. Even Christmas dinner has traditions (quite similar to America) but still some surprises like Jansson’s Frestelse (which I dislike).

Also typical during the holiday season is the julbord dinner. Julbord is a Christmas dinner. You can have one at home with a smörgåsbord, an array of food. Usually julbords are organized as a company party. Warning though, I’ve heard that the company julbord is full of debauchery and true drunken spirit. If you’re going, be warned.

But hell, my taste buds won’t die during the winter. Between yummy saffron buns and a burning goat, Christmas traditions in Sweden are strong. If I found a good recipe for the dish, I attached the link as well.

Essential Spices for the kitchen
Cinnamon (kanel)
Cardamom (kardemum)
Saffron (saffron)
Nejlikor (clove)
feels a lot like Indian food, doesn’t it? :)

Julsenep – Christmas mustard

Swedish Christmas Drinks
Snaps – aquavit – Yes, hard liquor is part of Swedish tradition and making toasts. Snaps are strong, flavorful and more than a couple shot implies trouble.

Glögg – Mulled Wine – Glögg is similar to the French mulled wine sold on the streets (you can’t sell Glögg on the streets here- because that would be bad according the government). Blossa Glögg and Tindra are two famous Swedish brands that make different types of glögg. Personally, I would pick a less famous brand (not Åkesson either) since they have more flavor. Each year, Blossa produces a special glögg of the year, which for 2010 is Saffron.

Julmust – Christmas Cola – It’s not Coke. It’s not Root Beer. It’s something in between. Coke has tried for years to beat julmust but hell, christmas tasting soda is way better.

Julöl – Christmas beer– Christmas speciality beer from the major producers. Some are delicious, some are gross. Enough said.

Swedish Christmas Desserts
lussekatter - st lucia buns
Lussekatter or Lussebullar – Saffron Buns – Traditional served on Lucia day, you know, when girls wear candles on their head and sing Christmas songs. Because lussekatter are made with saffron, find a good brand of saffron if you want the real flavor. Santa Maria spices have terrible safforn that looks like leftover colored powder. If you can splurge, get Spanish saffron, you’ll need a small pinch and the leftover can be used in Moroccan and Indian dishes. Lussekatter also have quark, a special ricotta cheese. If you don’t have access to quark, use this recipe.

Pepparkakor – Gingersnaps – They are very close to gingerbread cookies but are hard and thin cookies (more coffee/ tea friendly than milk). I double or triple the amount of spices called for the in recipe because I love flavorful.

Risgrynsgröt – Rice porridge – A rice porridge served for breakfast on Christmas Eve. It’s delicious, creamy, rich, and added cinnamon, brown sugar and milk makes it even more decadent. One almond is hidden in the pot and the person who finds it gets a prize and if you’re slightly older, you’re going to be the first to marry.

Knäck – Swedish toffee – Sugar, sugar, sugar! Cream + sugar + vanilla = delicious gooeyness or delicious hard swedish candy.

Ris à la Malta – {have not figured out the difference between ris à la Malta and risgrynsgröt. will come back!}

Swedish Christmas Meats & Fishes
christmas dinner in sweden
Julskinka – Christmas ham – Quite similar to the American ham. But many families here have the cut ham that can be used as in a smörgås.

Prinskorv – Prince sausage – These are mini sausages that have crown like cuts. They’re nothing super special except for the funny cut.

Köttbullar -Swedish meatballs – The traditional meatballs make an appearance for Chirstmas Eve dinner. A good cook will make them from scratch, so skip the Scan premade icky meatballs.

Janssons Frestelse – Jansson’s Temptation – I have no idea who Jansson is and what is temptation was but this is a casserole dish with potatoes, anchovies, and cream.

Lutefisk – Lye fish – dried fish that’s brought back to life and served with a cream based sauce. I’m not a fan of strong fishes so i stay far away from lutefisk and Janssons Frestelse.

Here is a full list of dishes from DN.

Happy Thanksgiving from Sweden!

Wishing all of you a very happy turkey day. If you are not celebrating overeating, overindulging holiday where we supposedly thanked the Native Americans for helping Americans by more or less killing them, then well you have point.
Thanksgiving turkey

May you have a wonderful weekend Black Friday shopping at least!

Hugs and kisses,

PS- If you’re in Sweden and want turkey, head to Ingelsta Kalkon, they’re a local company and have very good quality products.

Update – Some photos from our thanksgiving lunch. Plus an awesome poem from my buddy SugarB
A nicely made turkey
From a girl, who’s from Berkeley.
Serving stuffing and wine.
A pumpkin pie, that smelled fine.

Inviting friends from all over.
Not a single left sober.
Sharing peace, love and food.
Getting people in-the-mood.

Leaving happy and full
To my place in Norrtull
Thanks for today.
Du är en duktig tjej!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Stockholm Fireworks New Year's Eve 2010
happy happy joy joy 2010!!!

Okay, Christmas has passed but happy belated wishes to everyone. It’s been a crazy 2009 and I hope all of you had the opportunity to spend it with someone(s) special.
I went up to Sälen, a ski town, in central Sweden for four days. Here are some photos below. We did have some very traditional Swedish decorations and watched Kalle Anka at 3PM on the 24th. Of course, what else would you be doing?

to sälen

And now for a happy happy new year and to have a wonderful 2010. Woo!

The Deal with Black Friday

If Thanksgiving in America wasn’t American enough, there is Black Friday: the holiest shopping day of the year.

Not to be confused with the stock crash and somber days of Black Monday, basically when the financial world came to a halt, Black Friday marks the first day of the Christmas shopping. And why black? In terms of finances, most companies say they are in the ‘red’ (i.e. holding debt, negative profits), or in the ‘black’ (i.e. making profits).

Since the majority of a retailer’s sales occurs during the Christmas season, most see their balance sheet go from red to black.

After checking up on Wikipedia, the first time Black Friday was used in context of Thanksgiving was in 1966 in Philadelphia:

JANUARY 1966 — “Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing. [source]

Black Friday as a coined term was used again in 1975 and became more common in the 1980s when retailers themselves used it as a day of blessing to bring in good sales through the Christmas Season.

And well today Black Friday is the best and craziest shopping day of the year. Usually queues begin at 1 or 2 am as stores open for doorbuster events from 4-6AM. Everyone from Best Buy to Target to The Body Shop are in on it.

How to Plan for War on Black Friday

Basically, Black Friday is the bring out the guns and warpaint day. If you can’t handle crowds, chaos, don’t shop on this day.

First you need to do a reconnaissance mission, ie. organized planning and scouting of the target location. Then you need to decide who goes to what store, where are the meetup points in the city, etc.

Last year we (6 swedes, 5 americans) headed off the Gilroy Premium Outlets… at 11.30pm Thanksgiving Night. Yes, we battled war with the truest of the insane shoppers. I mean, it took 30min to get off the highway and to the mall area. Lines started at midnight for shops that were opening at 3am.

After finishing shopping at 5AM, we ate at Dennys, headed back home at 7AM. My two friends and I just slept in the car for two hours (in front of the house). At 9AM, we drove one hour north to San Francisco to battle the crowds at the largest underground retailer, Jeremy’s.

Then in the afternoon, I switched teams, and joined my friend Tony to finish up. Torbjörn and his friends napped until noon then battled the electronic superstores.

We reconvened at 7PM for dinner at Chevy’s Mexican restaurant.

Total hours of pure shopping/standing in lines: 10 hours
Nap times/breaks: 3 hours
Driving: 5 hours

Welcome to Black Friday, America’s Holiest day.

Swedish Christmas Holidaying

As a non Swede, I’m not quite sure what’s the deal with all the Christian holidays in a very pagan country. I just feel it is another reason to drink, eat, and drink again. And be really crazy. So I put together a little list of all the dates you should know during the Christmas season, the Swedish way.

Until today, I had no idea what Advent is but it is the official Christian Christmas holiday season. Advent starts on the 4th Sunday before Christmas, so this year it’s on November 28th. Get your Swedish Advent decorations up folks and get the little Advent calendar. You know that calendar, the awesome little booklike thing with push through boxes in which chocolates hides.

SVT and Sveriges Radio has official Advent programs everyday so kids can open the daily window in their calendar and listen to a story on the tv/radio.

You need four candles for Advent, one for each Sunday and a candlestick holder. Also put up stars in the windows; they represent the Star of Bethleham.

If you would like to see an advent ceremony in Stockholm head to Skansen or Stadshuset. All other cities in Sweden will have ceremonies in the local kyrkan or stadshuset.

St. Lucia – December 13th
Early in the morning the Lucia parade (lussetåg) headed by Lucia, Queen of Light, would go around the house. The Queen, usually the youngest daughter in the family, wears a crown of candles (yes totally wild!) and a white dress with a red sash. Following her are her maids (tärnor), star boys (stjärngossar), and santa claus Tomte. And for yummies, the procession walkers carry saffron buns (lussekatter) and spicy gingerbread cookies (pepparkakor).

December 22nd or so…
Put up that Christmas tree, julgran. I’m sacrilegious and put my tree up at Thanksgiving.  Swedes put the tree up a couple days before christmas.

Christmas Eve (Julafton) – December 24th
If you love Donald Duck and Disney, Christmas Eve in Sweden is THE most awesome holiday ever. Donald’s always been my favorite disney character (seriously, screw Mickey) and in Sweden he hosts the the Christmas Special. At 3PM. Every year. Without fail. Look for Donald’s Swedish name, Kalle Anka, and his special called Kalle Ankas Jul.

Once you’ve gotten over the splendid short clips from Bambi, Pinocchio, Cinderella, and more, it’s time to eat. Swedish Christmas food is both delicious and slightly strange at the same time. You will drink lots of glogg, pudding, lax, potatis, and more and more. Till you are stuffed.

After food, jultomte visits! If you’re good, lots of Christmas presents will come you way.

… by the way, December 24th is not a red day in Sweden. The 25th of course is a red day.

Christmas Day (Juldagen)– December 25th
After all the drinking and eating, it’s time to haul your ass to church.  Seriously, yes get up! Because after church, you will drink and eat all day.

Twelfth Night (Trettondagsafton) – January 5th
Twelfth Nights marks the official end of Christmas, which is on the 12th day. Pretty original and how the song 12 days of Christmas came to be. Most importantly, this is the day the Magi, aka the Wise Men, visited Jesus Christ and is called Epiphany Eve.

As trettondagsafton is the end of Christmas, many people take down their decorations. However with Knutdag, Swedes take down their decorations on the 13th. You know, just to be really different.

January 6th, is a red day, so yes another awesome holiday!

Knutdag – January 13th
Christmas ends on Knut’s dag. The tree is taken down, or plundered by the children (julgransplundring)

It’s Christmastime! Swedish Christmas Decorations to Put Up

After my massive bashing on Swedish fashion, I figured I would at least credit Sweden with awesome decoration for Christmas.  I mean, I’ll still be hater on fashion here.

It’s definitely Christmastime in Stockholm.  The lights on Hornsgatan are lit up.  Ahleans has the pretty Christmas lights.  And even the Pressbyrans and 7-Elevens have that Christmas smell of Lussekatter.  Yummmy ! But for us foreigners, what is a Swedish Christmas and what do eat, do, and decorate during this six weeks of food eating?

No fear, Sapphire’s here! :P  At least to help with decorating your apartment to look like a proper Swedish Christmas one.  Here’s your Swedish Christmas wikipedia guide.

Tomten – The Santa Claus

The tomte is Santa Clause in Swedish.  Sweden has adorable Santas as they are not really full sized old men with beards and hats kind-of dolls.  They are little round balls with white fuzz as a beard and a red hat, basically an abstract version of Santa.  Be sure to get a couple tomtar and keep one near a window or on the counter.

A very tall tomte. I think his hat was two feet tall!
Tomten - Swedish Santa

Varmljus – Candles

Plenty of candles are needed during the cold, dark Swedish winter.  Little tealights are classic and can be safely placed almost anywhere in the house.
This photo below is for when you put up the countdown from Advent to Christmas. Every Sunday until Christmas, you light a candle.
Advent Candles

Julstjärna – Swedish Stars

It’s quite possibly the most Swedish thing you could do: putting up white Swedish Christmas stars at the window.  Watch all the neighbors near you, in three weeks, stars everywhere.  Alas, at least now, people are getting more creative with different colors.
Christmas Stars

Änglar – Swedish Angels

Maybe not super Swedish per se, but angels are needed in all good Christmas decorations. I guess since the snowman is not as popular, angels will do.

If you want to support a great cause and buy Swedish goodies, I highly recommend Sally Ann – The Salvation Army store.  It’s a tiny store on Hornsgatan 94 in Sodermalm and all the products are fair trade.  The Swedish Angels below as well as the candles from above are from there.  I’m going to buy the rest of xmas decor from there!
Swedish Angels
and the most awesome of all…

Julbocken – Swedish Goat (aka the Gävlebocken)

The randomest of all, the julbock is the goat from Gävle, a city three hours north of Stockholm.  In the city square, a 42 feet tall, 23 feet wide, 3 tonnes straw goat is erected. Stig Gavlén, a marketing man, invented the goat in 1966. At that time it only cost 10,000kr to build.  Today it costs 100,000kr and for the last twenty five years, its been burned down.  Yea, a three tonnes beast burned on New Year’s Eve at midnight, all good fun.

Oh, did a little more research about the Yule Goat and its history goes back to pagan times of the Norse gods. Thor, one of the major gods, rode in the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. Goats were very valued then. Up until the 19th century in Scandinavia, it was julbocken that distributed christmas presents, not santa claus.

Julbocken - Gavle Goat

Since most us cannot put up a 40 foot tall goat in our apartments, we have little straw goats instead.  Just don’t place them near the candles.