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.
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
The stars represent the town of Bethlehem.
Julbocke – Christmas 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.
Of course you need ornaments for your tree!
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
The Christmas tree is put up on the third Advent and stays up until Knutsdag (twentieth day yule) on January 13th.
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.
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.
Moving to a new country and then making new friends is hard. Moving to Sweden and making friends is like waiting for hell to freeze over. A friend over on Twitter ask me to write a bit about what’s it like to make new friends here.
First, the collection of articles on living in Sweden.
For me, I was lucky; I knew people who knew people. Still, it took a lot of random conversations with a lot of people to determine if I wanted to be friends with them.
Swedes for one, can take awhile to become friendly and become friends. Making friends with Swedes who have lived in the same city all their life is the hardest, probably the worst thing you can do. These Swedes have always had the same pillar of friends from grade school to gymnasium to university, plus or minus a few friends. As a result, they are stable, don’t need new friends, and don’t need more things to do. Skip making friends with these Swedes until you are settled down and comfortable with life.
I made the easiest friends with the Swedes who have lived abroad. They have more of open mind and can relate to nomads. You can meet these Swedes at pub quiz nights, international companies, meetup clubs, and even blogs (hi Hairy Swede!).
And it’s okay if you don’t have many friends; your possy in Sweden maybe smaller than what you had at home. But make friends with people you enjoy being with.
Here are some places, online and offline to meet more people in Sweden, not just Stockholm.
Meetup.com – Meetup has meeting all over the world. Find local meetings in the city you live. Stockholm and Gothenburg has regular meetings and outings and the people there are really friendly.
Couchsurfing – Surf on someone’s couch for the night and make a new friend. Great if you’re about to move to the city. You can also go to the couchsurfing meetups to meet people who host surfers or just want to hang out.
Working or attending university – Try not to work at an über Swedish company. You know which companies those; they’re large, impersonal, and no one cares about anyone else. University is great to meet other foreigners but difficult to dig up the Swedes. Work hard at initiating conversations with them.
Embassy or native culture events – If you are in Stockholm or Göteborg, you are lucky. There are always embassy/consulate events going on for citizens to feel back at home. In some of the smaller cities there maybe joint groups not run by the embassy but maybe a business or cultural group.
Yoga Lessons – A long shot but at least you get in shape and get out of the house.
I’ve come to the point in life where half the time I love Stockholm and half the time I hate Stockholm. Okay, maybe there are days when I hate Stockholm more than I love. But hey, no one said I was a lover not a hater.
After nearly three years here, I’m finally making a pros and cons list of living in Stockholm. As I was naive when I first moved here that Stockholmers are Swedish (Stockholmers are Stockholmers and no one wants to touch them with a 10 foot poll); I can now tell the difference between a Stockholmer and a Swede.
Anyway, at least I think I know why I love Stockholm and why it drives me to bits.
Here it is, let the loving and bashing begin:
Pros of Living in Stockholm
It’s the capital of Sweden AND Scandinavia. Boo-yah! We kicked your ass Oslo and Copenhagen.
Walking to work is awesome. No longer do I have an one hour commute by car but rather an 18 minute walk to work.
Springtime in Stockholm is beautiful. Spring time is beautiful everywhere, but still a win for Stockholm.
I live on an island! That is so cool telling my friends that I live on an island in Sweden!!! Nevermind that 500,000 other people live on the island.
There are 14 islands that makeup Stockholm. That’s a lot of islands.
Being able to walk five minutes to the grocery store.
Finding cute nooks and crannies of the city where you can buy great cheeses, Italian specialities, or shoes.
Meeting friends anywhere in the city afterwork. I love that after owning a car for 11 years, I can walk or take the train to meet friends. And nothing’s far; Stockholm is so cute and small you can walk the city in an hour or so. Yipee!
Hanging out on the water during the summertime. I’ve never lived near the water so being able to walk to the water and hang out a park nearby is awesome. I just wish people wouldn’t be such dipshits and dump trash into the waterways and parks.
Watching the city empty out during the summertime. So nice to see less cars, less people, more peace.
Cons of Living in Stockholm
Beer is expensive. Martinis are expensive. And for some unknown reason, Josefine’s on Djurgården charges 94:- for the world’s shittest glass of rosé wine (jacob’s creek).
Drivers suck. I like drivers from Gothenburg; they don’t seem to be in a rush to run over people. Drivers in Stockholm look like they’re on crack for the Indy 500 gone Fast and the Furious.
Rude people. I’m small. I’m smaller than Swedish kids who are 12 years old. That means, I get the honor of having doors slamming my face, elbows whacking my head, and the occasional bag hitting me from the side. You know, you could say “excuse me” and it wouldn’t kill you.
For being the largest city in the Nordic region, there are few places that are cheap and delicious to eat at. Please, no thai or kebab.
Stockholmers believe they’re awesome. I understand the complex. Stockholm barely makes it in the top 100 capitals in terms of population. Most people think it’s in Switzerland. And people in DC, Paris, Toyko, Delhi, don’t really care about Stockholm as a city or a capital. The best Stockholm can do then? Pick on its little sister Gothenburg.
Stureplan is not cool. Posers. We’re so impressed that five ferraris and three lambourginis are registered in Sweden. We’re even more impressed that you can park them on the sidewalk and throw champagne down the drains (vaska). We love that somehow everyone goes to New York to shop and in desperate times, to Paris and London.
Dating your coworkers is weird. Dating your boss is weirder. I don’t know if it’s a Stockholm thing or a Swedish thing, but dating managers and having affairs at the office is not conducive to a good office environment.
Getting shit-faced at the office party and puking on a coworker is rude. Some companies would have an intervention for alcohol problems.
I know I ruffled feathers with my 10 things I hate about Sweden. People thought I was/am a real a’hole. To prove them wrong, I made a list about why I love Sweden.
But let’s get real. The I love Sweden post received 15 comments. The I hate Sweden post received 255 comments. The people who told me to “get the F out of Sweden” were no where to be found when I made positive comments about their country. Do they love Sweden then if all they can do is hate me for pointing out the poorer aspects of the nation?
This compiled list is not just me. I asked several expats what they hate about Sweden and these are the top answers.
I’ve complained about Sweden, mainly what irks me in an amusing way. Except for the crappy bedsheets, why can’t you find soft, snuggly, egyptian cotton fitted sheets?? Okay, I’ll stop. I love Sweden and for many opportunities it’s given me even though I don’t discuss it much on the blog. To be honest, it’s not entertaining to tell everyone how much you love a place and how wonderful life is; how mushy is that?
For those of you who think I’m a self centered Sweden-hater, try reading more into the posts. I point out what I see everyday. It’s my world through my filter. But it is possible to love Sweden. It’s special; still full of Nordic traditions and sweet naiveness.
And 42 reasons why you should love Sweden:
Parental leave (mammaledgit/pappaledgit) is 15 months…paid!
Kids get free daycare (dagis)
Summertime means endless sun
The Swedish men are gorgeous
Swedish women are hot, blond, and beautiful
Princess Yummyboobs, I mean Princess Madeleine
You can stay in a hotel made from ice (or get a drink at the Absolute Ice Bar)
I can be sometimes slow about catching up with all the blogs in my reader. Luckily though, a fellow expat, Giorgio Paoletti, from Italy, sent me an email about a movie on foreigners in Sweden.
You might be wondering, oh dear some boring moving about sad refugees. Far from it. Giorgio and his friend made a movie based on their lives (melded with others too) about work, academics, bar visits, parties, and Swedish girls. Oh, and how to make Swedish friends.
For us “immigrants” and Swedes, this is a must see. The movie is raw and emotionally satisfying. We can all relate. To how to talk to someone at a party to dealing with the winter misery, there is a little of bit of everyone of us in the main character, Alex.
Here is the video. Be sure to click on the button twice because it will turn from red to green.
Giorgio has also been kind enough to give a one on one interview (and the first official interview) with me by email. I asked a lot of tough questions of course.
Sapphire: Where are you from?
Giorgio: I am Italian, from Rome
I won a scholarship to be an Erasmus student in Stockholm; besides, my dad had lived in Stockholm in the early 60s so I was curious to go there because he had told me a lot about this place.
How long were you here?
More or less 5 years, 1 year as an exchange student in Stockholm, 1 year in Göteborg, and then other 3 years in Stockholm.
During my first year I was an exchange student in Political Science; the year I spent in Göteborg I studied Swedish full time. In Stockholm over the last years I worked in different companies and fields, many jobs, none particularly pleasant aside from teaching Italian in schools.
Why did you leave?
I got a bit bored of Sweden, especially my last 2 years seemed to be the replay of the previous years, nothing particularly new and cool. Moreover, I needed chaos, to feel alive; peace and cleanliness around
started to create some anxiety in me.
What do you like doing?
I like writing, no matter if it’s a short story, a novel, a screenplay or even an article for my blog. It helps me point out concepts which are in my head but not completely clear yet.
At the university, was it easy to learn Swedish? Was it necessary and did it help make more friends?
Swedish is a language that is easy and hard to learn at the same time: easy because there are very few rules and after 6 months you can speak it. Swedish is hard because after 4 years it’s rare to speak much better than 3 and half years earlier; the risk is to reach a low–medium level and then stick to it, without improving.
I don’t think speaking Swedish helps make more friends but it allows foreigners to understand the society a bit better.
So, what inspired you to come up with this documentary? Why make one?
After a couple of year I was living in Sweden there were things about that society which were clear and others unclear. I decided to investigate, analyze and understand Sweden from my perspective. I started attending seminaries about subjects related to the Swedish culture and when I thought I had the answers I was looking for, I wrote an article about Sweden in my blog, which analyzed the main cultural aspects of this country.
I knew many other foreigners had similar thoughts and questions so I thought I could try summarizing my “guide” throughout a movie, which was partly a normal film and partly a documentary.
I was also curious to see if I could involve some Swedes in the project, to see how they would react to something critical towards their society. Those who have participated showed me to be much more open minded than I had thought, I was expecting reactions like “who the fuck you think you are to come to our country, judge us and be so critical?”; on the contrary, they have been very interested and professional.
Enjoying Sweden…no Germany with friends…
Part of the movie deals with dating Swedish girls and meeting friends.
Personally, how was it for you to make friends/meet girls?
Making friends in Sweden is something appalling, frankly speaking. People are respectful and polite but when it comes to personal relationships it’s hard to find someone that let you get close. It’s easy to make acquaintances (I know loads of Swedes) but I have very few friends in the way I intend a friendship, without barriers and distances. Usually my Swedish friends have lived abroad and learned to live also (but not only) in a non-Swedish way: there’s no difference between boys and girls in that.
Swedish girls are usually very attractive, not my favourite in terms of beauty but almost my favourite; they can be the best or the worst as far as meeting is concerned: I love the emancipation they’ve reached which allows them to pick you up openly if they fancy you.
I never saw in any other country this freedom for women, which is great; on the other end they are quite narrow minded when it comes to knowing a person in a non standard way (parties or common friendships): I like to meet people in the streets, to talk to complete unknowns; this way I met the main Swedish female character of the movie we made. It means there are exceptions to the usual “Swedish rules”.
Who is Alex?
Alex is the typical foreigner who moves to Sweden without knowing what Sweden is.
Why do we never see Alex’s face?
Because it doesn’t matter what he looks like or what country he is from; what does matter is his thoughts and his feeling which are the thoughts and feelings of many foreigners who live in Sweden.
You moved now to Ireland, what do you miss about Sweden?
The beauty and efficiency of many things.
What do you not miss?
That in Stockholm I could talk to loads of people in a week but I was often feeling lonely; in Ireland I can been on my own most of the time but I never feel alone.
Alone in Sweden in the winter If there was one piece of advice you could offer a new foreigner, what would you say?
Don’t feel like a freak or a Martian; if you feel strange it’s not your fault. Furthermore, whenever you have a chance to enjoy Sweden, do it: it won’t happen again, at least for a long time.
Most importantly, what’s your thought on fika as an Italian?
I really like the fika concept, it something that we paradoxically don’t have in Italy.
And really how is the coffee in Sweden?
Usually the coffee you can drink in Sweden is not good, but it is not worse than the one you can find anywhere else in Northern Europe!
For more information about the movie and who is Alex check out: Who is Alex.
Fellow Americans and Brits and all my lovely readers. What did you think of the movie? Love it, hate it, laughed my ass hilarious, winter does sucks too.
I love TheLocal.se. LOVE that newspaper. Basically they take Swedish news, translate it (through google translator), add opinions (because real news deserves opinions), check if the translated article and opinions make sense, and post. Voilà! You have a news worthy piece for the English audience in Sweden.
And then, The Local writes intense, heavy news articles about chocolate, STDs, speeding tickets, gay parties, and drunk people. But this latest article is the icing on the cake.
The Örebro municipality’s crime prevention unit visited The Body Shop to inform the lotion company that its posters gratuitously displaying the leaf of the Cannabis sativa plant (industrial hemp), was not acceptable.
Body butters + photo of a industrial hemp leaf = Drug promotion for teenagers
What on earth??
I know. Sweden has a lot of problems. Children see Pripps Blå commercials and immediately become beer drinking alcoholics on boats. Oh wait, they do that!
For a country that has one of the largest drug crime prevention units per capita, Swedes must be terrified of The Body Shop’s lotions. And for some idiots, industrial hemp, indica, must be the same as the marijuana plant leaf. That’s why it is legal to cultivate thousands of hectors of industrial hemp in more than 30 countries.
Karin Wickberg Taylar, press spokesperson for The Body Shop Sweden, said, “They (the Örebro municipal) argued that the use of the hemp leaf in the posters was offensive and provocative and that it undermined their work to tackle youth drug abuse.”
But yes, I understand. In a country dealing with political upheaval across the spectrum and racially inclined shootings in Malmö, the most important thing for a crime department to concentrate on is: photos of a plant leaf promoting moisturized skin.
Maybe that IS the enemy. Moisturized skin. Soft, supple, beautiful skin. The Swedish government doesn’t want us to know about body butters and other illicit lotions, lest the Swedes become even more sexy.
Some of the comments from the article were off the charts hilarious. I had to post them.
“Swedish customs agents are nabbing more body butter smugglers than in past years, and people traveling across the Öresund Bridge with small amounts of body butter figure prominently in the statistics.
Remember kids body butter kills! Just say NO!” — Soft Boiled
“”sweedy82: Because don’t you know, all drugs are bad. If you want to relax the only drug anyone should take is the one that’s Swede-accepted and Government approved; by buying overpriced and overtaxed booze from the monopolized stores that carry little selection – so big daddy gets his chunk of your cash.
Anything else is evil and unsafe.” — ISayWhatPeopleThink
“Yet alcohol is shown on Swedish TV programs all the time. Alcohol kills way more people in one day than have died of marijuana use since the days of Adam.
This is not conservatism or liberalism — it is just an insignificant municipality without any sense of perspective.” — Rebel
Next time you put lotion on, just think, are you taking a gateway drug?
It wasn’t enough that I had to spend 2008 and 2009 in a fashion black hole when it came to Swedes’ sensibility on the catwalk.
Now that it’s summer again, I am faced with the fashion horror everywhere I walk. The 80s fashion look is back in full force but in a different way. The extra large garbage bag shirts with twisty ties are replaced with smaller garbage bag shirts with neon colors.
And girls still wear black short leggings no matter what color dress they wear. Pink skirt? Black leggings. White flower dress? Black leggings. C’mon people!!! GET OFF THE BLACK OBSESSION! We don’t want to see knee length black leggings when you are wearing an adorable printed skirt.
Splendid Willow remarked that Odd Molly’s pretty summer Swedish fashion was full of flowers and romantic yet modern style. I rarely see these beautiful dresses on the streets of Stockholm.
And what’s with the men and the myriad of red pants? Did the Red Pants Shop have a sale of buy 1 get 10 free? While I do love that Swedish men have style (there’s no baggy ass jeans with dirty t-shirts), in typical Swedish style, everyone looks the same. Some women even match by wearing the neon blue pants (see photo 9). And by the way, this look originated in the 1970s according to the exhibition at Nordiska Museet.
My friends and I tried some H&M sale clothes last week. Not only was the selection disastrous in colors, prints, and styles, we figured the best way of showing off our Swedish fashion was to try them on.
Black Jean dress with frills. NOTE: A brightly yellow sticker was attached to let you know that color leaks onto furniture. Brilliant, just what I wanted to buy…
Next look: Pull up jean leggings with neon t-shirt. If you grew up in the 1980s and your parents did not torture you enough with stupid leggings and crazy graffiti neon pink tops, well, here’s your chance to do it again!
Long sleeve Grey T-shirt with Fuchsia belt and lingerie top. This horrible look says it all.
I maybe too old or unhip but I am lost in Swedish fashion. It is unflattering on women and disfigures their feminine bodies. No one should wear black leggings with pretty dresses. That’s not just wrong but sacrilegious to the airy, summer love feeling.
“Does Kalles Kaviar break Geneva convention rules?”
Thanks to Dano for the inspiration, we need a thread not related to Swedish dating or why cigarette butts are not thrown away. And damnit, we need the answer to life’s mystery: what’s with the small frogs at midsummer?
Post your question and myself or another equally brilliant Swedo, Americano, Britso, Italiano will have an insightful answer. Or multiple answers.
And yes, I am still wondering why there are no real good bakeries in Stockholm. Where can I buy a pain au chocolat?!
On the 23rd morning, Þorbjörn and I, and the rest of Sweden began our journey for Christmas break. This year, we traveled to Sälen, a ski town in central Sweden, close to the Norwegian border.
To get there, we had to take a bus. Luckily a direct bus. Because coming back to Stockholm we would be blessed by taking the car, bus, train, another train, and the tunnelbanan.
At 8.20 in the morning we arrived, bright, happy and stressed at Stockholms CityTerminaln, the city bus station. Being Swedish, and therefore being super organized, there is a lovely Arrivals and Departures board with gate information and times. Just like the airport. We head to the second floor where were leaving out of Gate 19.
Alas, a huge crowd overwhelmed the area between gates 16-19. In fact, we couldn’t even reach gate 19 because someone put up a barrier and people were standing in a moshed queue. Now, normally a queue in Sweden is a highly organized and semi high tech process. You go to the queue machine, take a number, and wait until the number is called on the bulletin board.
Today, being Christmas, was different. There was no organized queue. There was no information. It was 300 people standing in a mosh with two idiot ticket checkers. To be efficient, these two ticket agents were clearing four buses departing within 15 minutes of each other. Excellent, just what I need at 8.30 in the morning for a bus that leaves at 8.45.
Massive. Queue. FAIL.
We eventually pushed our way, with bags in tow, to the front of the crowd. The one of two brilliant ticket agents asked seven times (maybe I exaggerate, ten times), “Who’s going to Salen?” “We are!” screamed a dozen of us. Then two people get through. The other 300 people are still waiting to get through the line too. Then our idiot savant screams again, “Who’s going to Salen?” This time just ten of us say it. And it continues until the last three.
Now tickets checked, time to get on the bus. Nope, we had to push our way through another line where two buses were departing from gate 19. Morons at Flybussarna.
Eventually we fight our way to the right bus, get our luggage on, and get on the bus. Being of course almost full and every single ticket holder taking their own seat, it split couples and families. Þorbjörn asked one guy if he would mind switching seats so that we could sit together.
“No,” he said.
Ahhh, the friendly asshat during the Christmas season travels. And that Swedish organization is just a myth during busy times.