Skansen: a true taste of Swedish Christmas past

Skansen at Christmas is so much more than a bustling artisan market with crafts, traditional Christmas foods, spiced, mulled wine and ubiquitous carnival raffle to take home the oversized Marabou chocolate prize.

Indeed, with the historical buildings dotting the high, rolling hills of Stockholm’s Djurgården, nowhere else brings you closer to the ghost of Sweden’s Christmas past.

Preserving the historical and current traditions of Sweden is one of Skansen’s main aims. From its creation in 1891 more than 150 historical buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries from all corners of Sweden have been brought to Skansen.

Visitors to these farmsteads, homes and businesses are met by hosts in period dress. Their role is more than to merely add ambiance and atmosphere. They are there to animate the structures in the spirit of their long gone original inhabitants.

These “interpreters” enthusiastically invoking the ghosts of departed Swedes recreate and explain daily life as it might have been in another time and place of Sweden.

At Christmas, these buildings and their interpreting hosts make merry with seasonal cheer. Many of the farms and homes are adorned in the rituals of yuletide particular to the time and region the house represents.

Marie Lexius at Skansen is responsible for the inventory found within the buildings and consequently the Christmas items used to decorate and illustrate the holiday season. She ensures that the displays are as historically accurate as possible.

Holiday decorations and tables are prepared as the families of that region and financial means would have done. The homes often look as if they are in suspended animation for the moments before the dinner bell to call the family to supper.

“I have met one of the daughters of the teacher that lived at the Väla Schoolhouse, so we know exactly how they celebrated Christmas.” Marie Lexius told The Local.

Visitors are treated not only to the visuals of these living dioramas of Sweden’s historical rich and poor, farmers and tradesmen, but also to the sounds, smells, and occasionally tastes.

Fires crackle in hearths as the hosts prepare traditional foods, decorate baubles or play a folksong on the key harp. Often a crowd gathers round to hear the tales of what the family might have eaten, the traditions they might have kept and the customs and superstitions that now permeate the national Swedish culture.

“What the host talks about depends on what the visitors want to know.” Lexius said.

“Children often want to hear about Tomte and Tomtenisse – Swedish Santa and helpers – while grown ups are more interested in the food.”

Tradition is important for Skansen too.

“We try to keep [the displays] the same every year,” Lexius admits.

“But we add on all the time. 10 years ago we brought in a Swedish Christmas tree expert who made corrections that we really appreciate.”

The apartment behind the Hardware Store and adjoining Co-Op shop —the predecessor to modern Konsum – is the new Christmas kid on the block. The living quarters will be decked out as the family would have decorated it.

This Christmas the following buildings are slated to be open and decked with boughs and holly:

Hornborga Cottage will be adorned in Christmas decorations, the Printer’s home will have a traditional tree and other decorations. Warm yourself by the stove in his little kitchen.

The Ekshärad Farmstead representing Värmland, the Delsbo Farmstead representing Hälsingland and Oktorp Farmstead from Halland will be set for dinner. And to see how the poor in the 1920s enjoyed the holidays, the Labourer’s cottage will host a Christmas tree and have a table set.

At the Iron Master’s Farmstead and in Seglora Church you will be treated to traditional Christmas music. At the Village Hall you can see straw crafts like the traditional Christmas Rams and wreaths seen in most modern Swedish homes.

The popularity of the buildings has encouraged Skansen to extend the opening hours of the homes and farmsteads this year. This Christmas any building open will remain open until 5pm.

Skansen may be a year-round bastion of Swedish tradition, but with the reindeer in the animal enclosure and the sights and sounds and smells of yule everywhere you turn, the Stockholm attraction is a fine tonic for modern Christmas.