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The joys of Jul

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On the 20th day of Christmas my true love…plundered the Christmas tree. It’s tradition to take down the family Christmas tree on “Tjugonde Knut” –the day of Knut 13th of January.

Christmas celebrations in Sweden extend from the First of Advent through to a week past Twelfth Night. They combine Christian, modern and age-old pagan traditions. The characters that make up the scene stretch from an angelic vision of radiant light to tiny elves and rams made out of straw. The debate rages of true origins of all things Yule-tied.

But the question examined is, what is traditional Christmas –or Julafton – for your average, modern day Swede?

While traditions vary home to home, there are some staples that all Swedes connect on. The first and most significant element of Swedish Christmas is the day on which it is celebrated. Julafton is celebrated Christmas Eve. If you ask a Swede what date is Christmas most will tell you it’s the 24th even though the Swedish name literally translates to Christmas Eve.

Surprisingly, Julafton is a working day for some—definitely shopkeepers. Last minute shoppers scurry about grabbing all the final packages for loved ones. But everything stops by 3pm. That’s when Kalle Anka is broadcast on Sweden’s channel 1. Kalle Anka is Swedish for Donald Duck, but refers to the hour-long montage of classic Disney which brings all Swedish families together in front of the TV. Other channels put up a noble fight with competing shows, but die-hard tradionalists can watch no other.

The order of events may vary home-to-home, but in addition to watching beloved scenes that every Sweden can and will allude to all year long, the family digs into its Christmas smorgasbord, or julbord. The dishes that make up the staple of a julbord remain constant.

There is a variety of marinated herring and salmon dishes, a Christmas ham, tiny sausages, meatballs, spareribs, boiled potatoes and janssons frestelese –Jansson’s temptation –a fishy version of potatoes gratin. Some families insist on other traditional dishes to be present even if not consumed, namely brown beans and rice porridge. And certainly no julafton would be complete without the aquavit.

Bellies stuffed and TV turned off, it’s time for presents. Jultomten, or Swedish Father Christmas, is found where small children are found. The jolly soul makes an appearance inopportunely exactly while Daddy has taken a trip to the newsstand to buy the newspaper.

He arrives laddened with presents, stops in for a quick hello and continues on to other deserving children. Presents are never ripped open in a race to uncover all gifts first, but painstakingly one at a time. How children do not explode in anticipation is another holiday mystery.

Once all witty rhymes read and presents unwrapped the festive family may choose to dance around the Christmas tree. Puzzelingly, a classic Christmas song, små groderna –or little frogs—is equally classical at midsommar. ‘Tis no matter when in festive spirits. It is undoubtedly hilarious to watch —“lustiga att se.”

Små groderna, små groderna

Är lustiga att se

Christmas winds up for many after all the presents have been opened. However, it’s not uncommon for children of an older age to make merry into the wee hours. Some argue it is to be sure not to miss julotta – or the early morning mass. It may be the only day in the calendar year a Swede “worships.” This early hour tradition greets bleary eyed attendees with a wash of candles and pews draped with pine boughs —warmth and beauty to brighten the darkness of the mid winter.

Once home snuggled in beds the family can awake to Christmas Day requiring nothing of anyone but time to enjoy all the new presents. There are people who need to greet other extended family who were not present the day before. Christmas Day is also a day for many to eat lutfisk or lye fish. Some rave it’s a delicacy, others couldn’t be bribed to join in.

Swedish Christmas extends through Boxing Day. But in modern Sweden many of the larger stores in cosmopolitan centers already open to welcome bargain hunters and disgruntled gift-getters. However you celebrate, may your Christmas be joyous.

God Jul!

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius is a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Stockholm.

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Sweden’s best Christmas markets for 2021

After many Christmas markets were cancelled last season, you may be wondering where you will be able to get this year's dose of Christmas cheer. Here are our suggestions for some of Sweden's best Christmas markets.

snow on stockholm's gamla stan christmas market
Stockholm Old Town's Christmas market may be one of Europe's oldest. Photo: Ola Ericson/


1. Malmö Mitt Möllan

The trendy and multicultural area of Möllevången in Sweden’s third biggest city has become the spot for a special Christmas market for those looking for a modern and hipster-ish atmosphere. The Mitt Möllan traders’ association organises a market that promises art, culture, food and fashion. Busy that weekend? Malmö’s traditional annual Christmas market in Gustav Adolfs square, focusing on local products, is being held in three sessions, from December 9th-12th, 16th-19th and 20-23rd. 

When: December 2nd-5th

Tickets: Free

2. Kalmar Castle, Kalmar

This spectacular 800-year-old castle has established itself as one of the largest Christmas markets in Sweden. For four days, the whole building will be opened to the public and visitors get the chance to wander around in the historic decorated halls. Listen to Christmas and winter music, and walk around the castle and visit some of the about 120 craftsmen from all over Sweden who set up their stands and sell handmade items. 

When: November 25th-28th

Tickets: 90 kronor (free for under-12s)

Kalmar Castle in Småland provides a scenic location for one of Sweden’s largest Christmas markets. Photo: Emmy Jonsson/Scandinav Bildbyrå/

Katrinetorps Landeri, also known as Gourmetgården, is Malmö’s Christmas market for foodies. This market, situated in the house and gardens of Katrinetorp, built in the 1800s, will have a focus on Christmassy food such as glögg (mulled wine), as well as a horse and cart, antiques, a Lucia parade and dancing around the Christmas tree. They will also be offering their own handmade products in their deli.

When: December 3-5th

Tickets: 80 kronor for adults, free for children under 15

4. Jul på Bosjökloster, Höör

Christmas at Bosjökloster monastery is also back for 2021! As in previous years, this market will feature Christmas concerts in the church, as well as locally produced gifts and food for perfect Christmas gifts. Visitors will also be able to eat a traditional Swedish julbord, meet Santa, ride a horse and cart and “look for presents in the maze”. This market is taking place on the first weekend of advent, meaning you can start getting into the Christmas spirit as early as November!

When: November 26th-28th

Tickets: 100 kronor for adults, dropping to 50 kronor after 2pm on Sunday and free after 3pm on Sunday. Free for children under 16. Over-65s pay 80 kronor on Friday


5. Liseberg theme park, Gothenburg

Sweden’s biggest amusement park, Gothenburg attraction Liseberg, lights up every year with millions of Christmas candles. A traditional Christmas Market and an old-fashioned Christmas market in different areas of the park offer everything from carol singing to pony carousel rides. Ice shows, Santa’s grotto, an ice skating rink and the park’s rabbits are sure to keep your little ones entertained. More information here.

When: Thursdays-Sundays between November 19th and December 30th. Check website for more details.

Tickets: Entrance from 95 kronor (free for children up to 110 centimetres) to 245 kronor for unlimited rides. The price varies depending on which day you visit as well as whether you want to go on the rides or not.


Gothenburg’s Liseberg theme park is host to a Christmas market complete with festive lights. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/Scanpix/TT

6. Skansen, Stockholm

Take the ferry over to Stockholm’s Djurgården island from Slussen and stroll over to Skansen, Europe’s biggest outdoor museum, which has organized its own Christmas market since 1903. It’s a great place to snap up some presents in the form of traditional Swedish arts and crafts, as well as having a feel of how Christmas was celebrated in the past.

When: Fridays-Sundays between November 26th and December 19th.

Tickets: 70 kronor for children aged 4-15, 160 kronor for adults and 140 kronor for concessions.

7. Old Town, Stockholm

Around 40 stands set up shop right in the middle of Stockholm’s Old Town ahead of the festive season, selling Swedish Christmas sweets, smoked reindeer, elk meat, a range of Swedish handicrafts and decorative arts, and much more. The setting alone is enough to get anyone into a romantic Christmas mood. This market might actually be one of the oldest in Europe, since the first Christmas market in the square was held as early as 1523 (although it started in its current format in 1837).

When: November 20th-December 23rd

Tickets: Free

8. Wadköping Christmas Market, Örebro

The Wadköping outdoor museum, which is an echo of what Örebro looked like centuries ago, organises a Christmas market full of the usual traditions: Christmas decorations, sausages, cheeses and arts and crafts. 2021’s Christmas market will also feature outdoor Christmas songs and pony riding.

When: November 21st and 28th, December 5th and 12th

Tickets: Free


9. Gammelstads Kyrkstad, Luleå

Brave the cold (and it will be cold) for a Christmas market in the far north of Sweden. The Gammelstad Church Town is the country’s largest and best preserved church town, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is over 400 years old, and comprises of 405 cottages, six stables and a privy, sprawling around a large medieval stone church. The Christmas market takes place at the Hägnan open air museum, where around 80 exhibitors sell products from home-baked goods to arts and crafts. Visitors this year will be able to make their own candles, meet Santa and go on a candle-lit walking tour through the museum.

When: December 4th-5th

Tickets: 30 kronor

10. Jokkmokk Christmas Market, Jokkmokk

Jokkmokk is located in the north of Sweden, in the Arctic Circle. It is an important place for the Sami people, the only indigenous population in Scandinavia. It is famous for its winter market in February, which first took place in 1605. At their recently-established Christmas market, held in celebration of the winter solstice, visitors will find traditional Sami handicrafts – called duodji – and learn more about their history and culture.

When: December 11th-12th

Tickets: Free

Traditional Sami handicrafts – called guksi or kåsa – wooden drinking cups available at the Jokkmokk Christmas and winter markets. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/Scanpix/TT

11. Christmas Market at Nordanå, Skellefteå

Are you in Skellefteå this December? Pay a visit to the Christmas market at Nordanå, which started in 1975. It is particularly known for its arts and crafts, and in past years visitors have been able to buy handmade ceramics, knitted baby clothes, and tin thread jewellery.

When: December 5th

Tickets: Free

12. Christmas Market at Västerbotten Museum, Umeå

This Umeå museum dedicated to the region of Västerbotten organises its annual Christmas market again. It promises a candy shop, horse-drawn carriage rides, a bakehouse and more than 80 artisans selling locally produced food and quality wares. Hungry visitors can also learn about what Christmas dinner from this region may have looked like in the 1870s.

When: December 4th-5th

Tickets: Free