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The Lowdown: Swedish Advent

Published: 01 Dec 2011 11:00 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Dec 2013 11:05 GMT+01:00

In the past couple of days, several of my neighbours have erected wooden triangles with little electric lights in their windows. What's that all about?

The triangles are called adventsljustakar, or Advent candlesticks, and signal that the countdown to Christmas has begun.

Advent (the word, which has Latin origins, is the same in Swedish and English), literally means 'coming'. People are supposed to start putting them up on Advent Sunday, four Sundays before Christmas, which this year fell on December 1st.

By the end of the first week of December, it will seem as though every home, shop and office in Sweden is displaying electric candlesticks.

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But what's the origin of the candles?

The advent lights are a modern interpretation of traditional advent candles. As in many other Christian countries, many Swedes keep candlesticks with four candles in their homes during Advent. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

The first electric Advent lights were produced in Sweden in 1934. They generally have seven lights and are often put up a few days before Advent Sunday. They are usually taken down on twelfth night - twelve days after Christmas Day.

In the darkness of a Swedish December, many people are glad to take the chance to spread a bit of light. Indeed, partly thanks to Ikea, Swedish-style advent lights have spread around the world.

Another popular tradition is to hang a paper star in the window. Originally a German tradition, this has caught on in Sweden too. The star symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem.

Lights in windows are all very well. What about the food?

Ah yes - Advent in Sweden is a good excuse to tuck into some seasonal delicacies. The country's favourite festive beverage is glögg, a sweet, warm mulled wine flavoured with spices including cinnamon, cardamom and served with raisins and almonds. Other forms of glögg are made with spirits such as brandy or akvavit.

Glögg parties are popular in December. As well as glögg, you can expect to be served saffron buns (lussekatter) and gingerbread (pepparkakor).

Most of the food can be bought in supermarkets, but the lussekatter and pepparkakor are best bought in a good konditori - or even better, made at home. For the stronger versions of glögg you will have to brave the Systembolaget liquor monopoly stores.

Another popular way of putting on weight during Advent is the chocolate Advent calendar. Open one window per day in your calendar between Advent Sunday and Christmas Eve, and start your calorie-fest four weeks early.

What else can I do to make the most of Advent?

Christmas markets are a popular way of enjoying the season. Stockholm has markets at Skansen, Drottningholm and in Gamla Stan's Stortorget.

Gothenburg hosts the country's largest Christmas market at Liseberg. Malmö has a market at Södertull, and many smaller towns and cities across the country host festivities of their own. More glögg, stalls selling local food and handiworks and festive music are the order of the day.

Another important element of the period is Lucia, or St. Lucy's Day, on December 13th. On this day, schools, offices and even newspapers nominate their own 'Lucia', who walks in procession in the early hours of the morning wearing a crown of candles, accompanied by a song about how St. Lucy overcomes the darkness.

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James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

22:40 December 1, 2010 by Rolle
You forgot Julmust!!

Also, a personal favorite of mine would be the GB Glace Pepparkakor Sandwich.
16:37 December 2, 2010 by Syftfel
Wouldn't it be nice if all of our esteemed and valued entrants from foreign countries also adopted the Swedish Advent tradition, including glögg and julmust? This must also be part of Ullenhag's "integration reform", as well as instilled in the "multi-cultural kids" from an early age.
13:18 December 3, 2010 by Åskar
If you have never tried the abomination that is Julmust, don't think of it!
13:27 December 3, 2010 by roaringchicken92
The Catholic tradition uses colored candles: purple for weeks 1, 2, and 4, pink for week 3 (Gaudete Sunday, or "the wait is almost over"); then all white candles on Christmas morning. Adds some color to the light :-)

Glögg with lussekatter and pepparkakor and maybe some smoked fish sounds pretty good right about now....
14:09 December 3, 2010 by JulieLou40
@ askar: totally agree.
01:44 December 4, 2010 by Swedelover
"Another popular way of putting on weight during Advent is the chocolate Advent calendar. Open one window per day in your calendar between Advent Sunday and Christmas Eve, and start your calorie-fest four weeks early."

I don't know about the kind of Advent calendars that you get, but the pathetic excuse for chocolate they put in all of the Advent calendars I have seen/received/eaten only net 16 calories and less than a gram a fat each... Probably not going to fatten you up that much! However, if you eat each day all at once, it is almost 500 calories and 22 grams of fat... now were talking! ( :
14:53 December 4, 2010 by Marc the Texan
My problem with Advent calendars is that the chocolate always tastes so cheap and nasty. I just imagine it's made in China with all the extras like heavy metals. There must be some high quality Advent calendar chocolates around somewhere.
23:27 December 4, 2010 by Amber Dawn
I saw a Smarties Advent calendar. I want one filled with Marabou. I wonder if that exists?! I tried and hated glögg and Julmust. Blech.
19:11 December 5, 2010 by mojofat
I tried Julmust and thought it tasted like Diet Pepsi. I was very nearly run out of the party by people with torches and pitchforks after making that statement. :)
19:23 December 5, 2010 by mikewhite
Yes, glögg is a kind of mulled wine. In UK we have - mulled wine !
18:35 December 7, 2010 by Evren
I drank julmust but it tastes like vinegar. It isn't bad and good for diet but i was like come on dude are you serious?
19:36 December 7, 2010 by Amber Dawn
My wife still can't believe I don't like glögg. Friends invited us over for some and I made a face. I think she thinks I have lost my mind. Must be the lack of daylight.
22:20 November 25, 2011 by dizzymoe33
I found some Julmust in a store that specializes in imported products from Europe and it tasted like a cross between Dr Pepper, Coca-Cola and beer after taste. Wasn't impressed next I will try the glogg, hoping for a better outcome.
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