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CHRISTMAS

As darkness falls, Swedes celebrate light

As almost round-the-clock night descends on their country in December, AFP's Rita Devlin Marier discovers that Swedes turn on their own informal celebration of light, in keeping with long-held traditions and to help cope with the darkest time of the year.

As darkness falls, Swedes celebrate light

Candles appear in the windows of homes, shops, offices and cafes throughout

Sweden from the start of Advent, on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, to the

end of December, when dusk can start creeping over Stockholm as early as 2pm.

Most of the time, Swedes light up the traditional “Adventljusstake” — or Advent candlestick — a multiple-branch candelabra often in an inverted V shape and nowadays lit by electricity.

But star-shaped lanterns are also common, as are straight rows of four or seven electric candles.

Such ornaments are often left on all night and through the day.

Sweden’s Advent window-dressing comes from a mix of customs dating back to the 1800s, Lena Kättström Höök, a specialist in Swedish traditions and curator at Stockholm’s Nordiska Museet, told AFP.

“It started with families, became more and more popular year after year and spread to the workplace and so on,” said Kaettstroem Hoeoek, who in a book on

Swedish Christmas said a study showed 92 percent of homes lit up their windows

during Advent.

Two hundred years ago there was only one candle put in the window on Christmas Eve through to Christmas Day.

“It was a protection against evil forces, it had some kind of a magical explanation, and was also a salutations of sorts” for people going to mass, Kättström Höök said.

No one knows exactly how the tradition of lighting up windows for the entire month of Advent emerged, but star-shaped lanterns and electric candlesticks began to be common throughout December in the 1930s.

In 1937, an employee at the Philips factory in Gothenburg had the idea of putting together seven of the electric candle-shaped Christmas tree lights the factory made: the Adventljusstake was born.

“It was a big success! There was already the old traditions of having lights in windows, and this was safe against fire and could be left on all night,” Kättström Hoeoek said, explaining how adaptation enabled the old tradition to survive.

While the celebration of light in Sweden can be seen throughout December, it reaches a peak on the 13th, Saint Lucy’s Day, in a celebration that comes from a mixture of traditions from Italy, Germany and Sweden.

Back in the 1700s the day was marked by a young woman, wearing a long white dress and a crown of lit candles, bringing in treats in the early morning.

In the 1920s, the feast became modernised, with Lucy’s morning procession including other girls wearing crowns and “star boys” with pointy star-adorned

hats.

Today, every school and day care centre in Sweden hosts such a procession on December 13. Many children put on the long white dresses, but only one girl is picked to be Lucy.

Saint Lucy’s Day concerts are also held in churches throughout the country, with choirs of children holding candles.

The melodies sung can be traced back to Italy, but they were adapted with Swedish words that reflect the country’s climate in mid-December.

“The traditions, they are alive and they mix together and they travel and come back,” the expert explained.

“I think they picked me because I am tall and blond,” said 12-year-old Fanny Haeffner, who was this year’s Lucy for the three concerts her music school presented at Stockholm’s Cathedral.

“You always have a Lucy procession in school, but I never thought I would actually be her,” she told AFP, after an hour of standing still and smiling during the concert.

Nowadays battery-operated Lucy crowns are found, but for the concerts Fanny had the real deal: no fewer than seven candles burning on her head, ignoring safety concerns for a true tribute to light.

The Lucy does not sing, but the 179 other children, all holding candles in the dimly-light cathedral, concluded the concert with the well-known “Sankta Lucia” song.

“Saint Lucy, make our winter night light with your beauty .. light up your white light, Saint Lucy,” they sang, before simultaneously blowing out their candles.

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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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