God Jul – Swedish Christmas Traditions

I am originally from the Netherlands, but I spent the past two years in Sweden. During my time there, I learned the language, and I learned a lot about the culture, society and people. I also learned about different traditions! As it is Christmas time, I want to share something about Swedish Christmas (Swedish: jul) traditions. Perhaps some things are similar to how it is celebrated in Greece, or in your own country, or perhaps it is totally different? 

Julmat: food

Prevalent Christmas spices in Sweden are saffron and cinnamon. For most people, these spices really taste like Christmas time! Saffron buns are common throughout December, especially during Lucia, which is on the 12th of December. A very popular coffee snack is pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies). Many people bake and decorate these, constructing gingerbread houses is also popular. 

Gingerbread cookies

There are also different kind of Christmas candies. Some families get together with friends or neighbours to make them together! Below you see mozartkulor, or mozart balls, made from nougat dipped in chocolat and then decorated. Other common candies are knäck (meaning ‘break’), a hard, crunchy toffee, and ischoklad (ice chocolate), which is made from chocolate and coconut oil.

Swedish mozartkulor, hemmagjorda mozartkulor
Mozartkulor in progress

For lunch and dinner, most Swedes stick to the traditional julbord (Christmas table): a buffet of dishes. Many dishes come back every year, such as a Christmas ham, sausages, meatballs, pickled herring, filled egg halves, smoked salmon, and boiled potatoes. Nowadays, people sometimes come up with their own creative interpretations. For example, an increasing amount of people is vegetarian or vegan, so they come up with alternatives or replacements for meaty dishes.

Swedish Christmas buffer or julbord
Swedish Christmas buffet or ‘julbord’
Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se

Food is very nice, but of course there must also be some drinks to top it off. Two very common drinks around Christmas are glögg and julmust. Glögg is a hot red wine with different spices, such as cinnamon and ginger. It is served in a glass with raisins and almonds. Julmust was created as a non-alcoholic alternative to beer in 1910, and is still very popular: it outsells Coca Cola during the holidays.

Saffron buns, glögg and gingerbread cookies from Sweden
Saffron buns, glögg and gingerbread cookies
Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

Decorations

Starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the first Advent Sunday, stars start to appear in the windows of many Swedish homes. It brings some light to the dark winter nights. A bit later in December a Christmas tree is usually taken into the house and decorated. Although Sweden has many forests, it is illegal to take trees out of the forest that is not your property. However, a survey done in 2010 suggested that 20% of Christmas trees may be stolen.

Swedish Advent tradition, star in the window
Jens Gustafsson/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

The Swedish Santa Claus is called jultomte. It is a mix of the American Santa Claus and folklore. In decorations, he often looks more like a gnome, with a high pointy hat and a beard. Jultomten also comes to bring presents. Usually, families ask a neighbour to play Santa Claus for them, and they were a mask to be unrecognisable.

Swedish jultomte, Santa claus
Christmas decorations

Another very special Christmas decoration can be found in Gävle, a city north of Stockholm, and is called the Gävle goat, or julbocken (Christmas goat). It is the world’s largest straw goat and has taken up into the Guiness Book of Records, but mainly became famous for the attacks that were aimed towards it. Since its first appearance in 1966, it was damaged 37 times, being set on fire many years, but also stolen, smashed to pieces, and hit by a car. In 2010, plans were even made to ‘kidnap’ the goat by helicopter.

Swedish Christmas Goat from Gävle, julbocken
The Gävle goat 
Credit: Visit Gävle

Christmas day

The main Christmas celebration in Sweden takes place on the 24th of December, Christmas eve. On this day, usually there is some kind of gift exchange within the family, or Santa comes to bring presents.

At 15:00, it is time for Donald Duck. Donald Duck? Yes! Every year, Swedes watch a Disney Christmas special from 1958 called From All of Us to All of You. The streets get quiet, and around 40% of the population sits down in front of the TV. It does not matter that they may have already seen it 40 times: it is tradition!

Hopefully this article gave you some insight into the magical country up north that is Sweden. Are there any traditions that surprised you? Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and otherwise Happy Holidays!

Post Author: Sacha Bogaers

Sacha Bogaers
I am 23 years old and moved from Sweden to Greece for ten months. My main interests are human rights, activism, and art. I also love writing about LGBTQ+-related topics and social justice.

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