biggest and longest holiday of the year is the magical Christmas
of Sweden. The excitement begins the first Sunday of Advent with
the lighting of the first Advent candle. Each Sunday prior to
Christmas, another candle is lit with growing anticipation.
and celebrating begin on December 13 with Lucia Day, which
legend says is the longest night of the year and a time when man
and beast need extra nourishment. In years past when the
celebration took place in the home, Lucia (Queen of Light) was
portrayed by the eldest daughter. She was dressed in a white
gown with a crown of candles in her hair. She would wake her
parents by singing the familiar Italian song "Santa
Lucia" and bring them coffee, buns, cookies, and
occasionally "glogg" (a mulled wine).
nearly every town, school, and day-care center has their own
Lucia. There is also an official popular election to choose a
Lucia to preside at the big parade in Stockholm.
in Sweden from Germany, the Christmas tree has been a part of
Christmas in Sweden since the 1700s. It was not until the
present century that the custom became general, however. Nearly
every Swedish household now brings in a tree one or two days
before Christmas and decorates it with sparkling objects, gaily
wrapped candies, glass bulbs, and straw ornaments, with electric
lights or candles.
Eve, then is the height of the festivities. Traditionally it is
a day when no work should be done other than seeing to one's
livestock. This is the day of the Christmas feast, which
comprises a smörgåsbord including a few traditional dishes
such as ham, jellied pigs feet, lutfisk and rice porridge.
Lutfisk (sun-cured cod served in cream sauce) is most likely a
throwback to a period of fasting from pre-Reformation times. The
Christmas feast also includes a tradition called "dipping
in the kettle" (doppa i grytan), in which the assembled
family and guests dip bits of dark bread in a pot filled with
drippings of pork, sausage, and corned beef. Symbolically this
calls to mind, in the midst of thanksgiving and plenty, all
those who are in need and hunger.
dinner all gather around the Christmas tree to open presents.
These gifts are brought by the Jultomten, a gnome who lives in
the barn, if there is one, and is very similar to the Danish
Nisse. The Jultomten is credited with looking after the family
and their livestock. Toward the turn of the past century a
Swedish artist began producing greeting cards illustrated with
gnomes. Her figures were a tremendous success and soon the
Jultomten had assumed a role comparable to that of the various
Santa Claus figures in other countries. He is believed to come
with presents. In many households nowadays, someone disguised as
a life-sized gnome comes on Christmas Eve with a large sack of
gifts. Sadly, in many areas the costume of the gift-bringer is
changing from a gnome-like outfit to a Santa Claus suit due to
merchandising influence from the U.S.
tradition, Swedes attend church in the very early hours of
Christmas morning. In olden days it was a custom to have a race
to the church in sleds or wagons or even home from the services.
The winner of the race was believed to have the best harvest the
coming year. Otherwise, the day is spent quietly within the
family circle, with Christmas parties and get-togethers the
following day and on throughout the holidays until Knut's Day.
finally ends on January 13. When King Canute was king of Sweden
a thousand years ago he decreed that the Christmas feasting
should be twenty days. While some countries observe the Twelve
Days of Christmas, another week is added to the celebration in