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After a long and dark Autumn, the First of Advent on Sunday 3 December marks the beginning of the countdown to Christmas in Sweden.
At the end of November, Swedes get out their advent candles, light the electric stars and candelabras in the windows and hang the outdoor lighting displays. Since the 1890s, it has been a Swedish custom to light a candle every Sunday during Advent. The first candle is lit in the Advent candlestick on the First of Advent and each Sunday until Christmas, another candle will be lit until all four candles are alight on or just before Christmas Eve.
It was in the 1930s that Swedes adopted the Moravian (Czech Republic) custom of hanging a paper star in windows. It was about this time that the advent calendar made it to Sweden too. Children open a window in the calendar for each passing day until Christmas Eve and Sveriges Television airs a special Christmas calendar show for the kids with 24 episodes, starting on 1 December.
Concerts and markets
On and around the first Sunday of Advent many Swedes attend Christmas concerts, many of which are held in local churches. We can really recommend the Lucia concert in the Stockholm Cathedral, Storkyrkan. There are concerts held around Sweden throughout December.
Around towns all over Sweden, there are Christmas markets selling handicrafts, decorations and food.
In Stockholm, Skansen has been organising a Christmas market since 1903 and it has been an unbroken tradition ever since. Here, the market is full of stalls selling traditional sausages and cheeses, handicrafts, Christmas decorations, hand-knitted mittens, children’s books and…well, the list is long. More information about the traditional Christmas market at Skansen can be found here. Rosendal’s Garden, also on Djurgården, puts on a lovely Christmas market. For information here. Or head to the Old Town where the Stortorget traditional Christmas market is always well worth a visit. Stortorget hosted its first Christmas market in 1837, which makes it to be the oldest market in Stockholm.
Kungsträdgården park in the heart of Stockholm will turn into a Christmas Village in December where you can enjoy skating or visit one of the many free events. Download the full program here.
Warming up with glögg
December is also the month when many Swedes get together to drink glögg (mulled wine) and eat pepparkakor (ginger bread). It’s a perfect drink for Christmas and Winter. Want to make your own? Try ToStockholm’s glögg recipe below.
ToStockholm’s Glögg Recipe
- 1 bottle of red wine (750 ml)
- 1 pinch cardamom seeds (1ml kardemumma)
- 1 tbsp cloves (5ml nejlika)
- 1 cup sugar (2dl socker)
- Rind from half an orange
- A stick of cinnamon
- Blanched almonds and raisins
- Poor the wine in to a pot. Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and add this to the wine together with the cloves, sugar, orange rind and cinnamon stick.
- Warm under slow heat and make sure all the sugar dissolves – do not let it boil (unless you want alcohol free Glögg). If you want to spice it up even more, you can add some Vodka.
- Pour through a fine strainer into small cups and adding some almonds and raisins.
So, make the most of December in Sweden – it’s a magical time of the year – although we’re still not ready to bet on a white Christmas for Stockholm!
Lucia on 13 December
13 December is Lucia, an important Swedish tradition, which brings some much-needed light into Sweden’s winter darkness. Girls and boys in white gowns sing to celebrate the mythical Saint Lucia, the bearer of light. The first recorded Lucia procession in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. However, Lucia did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 1900s, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. You can read more about Lucia and the myth here.
There will be Lucia processions at pre-schools, schools, shopping malls and churches across Sweden. Skansen in Stockholm holds popular Lucia processions at 11.30, 13.00, 14.30 in the Seglora church. In fact, Lucia has been celebrated at Skansen for over a century – the earliest record of a Lucia celebration at Skansen is dated 1893.
Then, Christmas is around the corner. Hopefully a white one!