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CHRISTMAS

Five festive pointers for the perfect Swedish Christmas

It’s that time of year when people are starting to flippantly use the C-word. Or Jul as it is known in Sweden. But what are the secret ingredients to the perfect Swedish Christmas? Ben Kersley investigates.

Five festive pointers for the perfect Swedish Christmas

A more cynical commentator might say that the perfect Christmas is one spent alone with a good book on a tropical beach away from all presents, tinsel or immediate family. Assuming that is not an option, here are five suggestions to make a fairytale Christmas in Sweden.

1. Shopping for presents

It wouldn’t be Christmas without getting seriously into debt (Think Dickens: A Christmas Carol followed by Hard Times) and buying your Christmas presents in Sweden, this is easily achieved.

Go to town and shop in style in Stockholm or Gothenburg by heading for NK, Sweden’s best known department store, famed for their Christmas window displays. The devil may wear Prada, so why shouldn’t your nearest and dearest?

Otherwise look for a rustic Julmarknad (Christmas market) where you can buy everything from homemade socks, candles and other handicraft to traditional Peruvian knitwear. You might even get to shake hands with Santa who usually makes an appearance at local markets.

2. Julbord

Julbord (literally ‘Christmas Table’) is a sumptuous feast laid out buffet style where you are expected to fill your plate, return for seconds and then keep returning until you are too bloated to go back. It’s a seasonal blow out where traditionally all the best foods are consumed with gluttonous abandon.

The standard fare is meatballs, Jansson’s frestelse (Jansson’s temptation – potatoes, onion, anchovies and cream), Julskinka (Christmas Ham) and lutfisk. These are accompanied by a wealth of other dishes including gravalax, smoked fish, pickled herring, cheese, patés, and other rich delicacies. The julbord is often a good chance to try such things as hjort (hart) paté or smoked reindeer, both of which are delicious.

Julbords take place at home with friends and family and also at restaurants across the country. If you do decide to eat your Julbord out, choose a Wärdshus, the equivalent of a country inn, for a real taste of the Sweden of old. More often than not, you will find locally produced food (närodlad mat) and regional specialities. Where I live in Östergötland, two of the best julbords are at Wärdshuset Berggrens Källare or Kisa Wärdshus.

3. Snow or ‘Go North my son, go North!’

Since Bing Crosby crooned the idea of a White Christmas into the popular psyche most of the world has borne a sense of disappointment on Christmas morning when opening the curtains to reveal a dull, wet, grey day. At least that’s the case in most cities in the northern hemisphere. The wonderful thing about Sweden is that there’s a strong chance it will snow. Needless to say, the further north you travel, the greater the chance of seeing the white stuff.

If your wallet allows it, there’s the world famous Ice Hotel way up in Lapland. But you don’t have to go crazy and travel all the way up to the Polar Circle, instead head for one of the Ski resorts such as Åre and take in some winter sports between Christmas festivities.

4. Music

A Christmas CD on repeat can be enough to tip some people over the edge. However, music that could be considered tacky or cheesy in another country may be seen as the height of sophistication in Sweden. Remember that this is the land that that sees Eurovision as a significant cultural event.

If you are really looking for a tune that has it all, you’ll find it hard to beat Dansbandskampens runners up, Scotts, who have released a Swedish version of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ called ‘Den Julen’ although ‘Andrew Ridgeley’s Revenge’ might have been a better title.

If dansband music all seems too much, you could always ‘Go Live’ and sing a selection of Julvisor (Christmas songs). Don’t worry if you’re tone deaf, the ubiquitous glass of snaps with each song will blot out any memory of cacophonous singing. Waking up the next day with a headache, you are never sure whether to blame the singing or the alcohol.

5. Santa Claus

Yes, he is real and he lives in the north of Sweden! You can write to him via the postal terminal at Tomteboda, Stockholm, where according to Sweden Post, he reads every letter and will reply in Swedish or English

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Or if you can hitch a ride on a reindeer you can meet him in person at Santaworld in Dalarna, where, everyday, the great man takes time out from his busy toy-making schedule to eat pancakes with his fans. The park is open throughout the year, but is closed on Christmas Eve, for obvious reasons.

Ben Kersley is a writer and performer based in Linköping. He is also Sweden’s only Svengelska stand up comedian. Read his blog ‘110% Lagom’ on The Local.

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CHRISTMAS

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/imagebank.sweden.se

SOUTHERN SWEDEN

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/imagebank.sweden.se

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

CENTRAL SWEDEN

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

NORTHERN SWEDEN

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

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