SHARE
COPY LINK

CHRISTMAS

‘Angels have nothing to do with Christmas in Sweden’

Following his two-year-old daughter's troubles settling on an outfit for a Saint Lucia Day procession, contributor Steven Karwoski takes an ironic look at the meaning of Christmas in Sweden.

'Angels have nothing to do with Christmas in Sweden'

On December 13th, Sweden celebrates Saint Lucia Day.

The Swedes borrowed this Christmas figure from the Italians then reworked her story, grinding, blending, and stuffing it into a Swedish sausage casing that resulted in the unique experience that became Sweden’s Saint Lucia.

Traditionally, on the morning of Saint Lucia, one female child wearing a white robe and a crown of lit candles leads a procession of children into the parents’ bedroom while singing the Saint Lucia song.

The children arrive bringing song, coffee, sweet saffron pastries and – most importantly – light, into the dark room.

All schools in Sweden also host Saint Lucia pageants. Celebrating the holiday and reflecting the need for light and song at the darkest time of year, these events are more like processions than beauty pageants.

However, the selection of Lucia can take on beauty pageant qualities.

Judges consider looks and height, but singing ability, however, remains a crucial factor.

These Lucia pageants begin in daycare and continue up into high school. The daycare versions permit multiple Lucias, and those not wishing to portray Lucia can dress as various other Christmas characters.

We enrolled our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter in daycare a few months after we arrived in Sweden in July.

This daycare’s tradition offered the standard procession for the parents as well as a visit to a local retirement home.

When asked which Christmas character my daughter wished to portray I assumed my dominant, take-charge, I-always-want-to-decide, child would pick Saint Lucia.

However she chose to be an angel.

Unfortunately, her teachers denied her wish.

When she asked why, they explained that angels were not on the list of culturally mandated Swedish Christmas characters.

You see, angels have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas in Sweden.

So began her indoctrination into Swedish Christmas culture.

They then welcomed her to choose from the list of culturally mandatory and sanctioned Christmas characters.

For starters, there was Saint Lucia herself, the martyred Sicilian Catholic saint who wears a white robe, a crown of candles, and a red sash representing Lucia’s spilt blood.

Other options included being a handmaiden for Lucia, the classic elf, or a gingerbread boy, where kids don brown pajamas with white trim and berets fashioned to look like little gingerbread men.

This outfit, the perfect fit for the child with that casaul Friday fashion sense, comes in the new onesie style or the traditional two-piece version.

And when it comes to Yule time tradition, Christian or pagan, nothing says Christmas better than children dressed as gingerbread men.

But for a uniquely Swedish experience, they also offered the star boy, who dress in white robes, wear star-studded dunce hats,

This stylish Ku-Klux-Klan-meets-Harry-Potter character just screams Christmas, and is completed with a stick topped with a gold star.

Despite the name, girls may portray this character (however star boy gender reassignment applications must be submitted to the Swedish Christmas Culture Board no later than three weeks prior to Christmas).

As for angels – please no, because angels have nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas in Sweden.

Although considering the school’s tradition included visiting a retirement home, the rejection of my daughter’s top choice of an angel can be interpreted as stemming from rather pragmatic reasoning.

If the elderly people saw white lights and angels coming in the room they may think:

“Oh this is it. They’re coming for me.”

And traumatizing the children with a mass cardiac arrest flash mob has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas in Sweden.

So, after this rejection she returned to the proverbial costume box, and after quiet reflection my daughter who lives in a Swenglish world where words from both Swedish and English fail her awkwardly at times asked:

“Dad, what’s the name of Santa Claus’s, you know, wife?”

“Mrs. Claus?” I reply.

“Yeah, I’m gonna be her,” explained my daughter, a natural default choice for a dominant child.

If my gender excludes me from being Santa then I’ll be his wife. If I can’t be the boss of Christmas then I’ll be the boss of the boss!

Close enough.

So back to her daycare’s Saint Lucia Pageant Costume Committee she went…and was again summarily denied.

Even though the pageant includes Santa’s helpers and Santa himself arrives after the procession to give out gifts, Mrs. Claus has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas in Sweden.

I found this a bit disappointing in such a progressive, feminist, egalitarian society. But tradition is tradition.

So finally, after pondering the true meaning of Christmas, she decided to be Jesus Christ. This choice makes sense on every level particularly if you enjoy leading, directing, and being the centre of attention.

As she announced her new choice, I saw the wheels turning. In her imagination she would arrive at school as the king of kings himself rolling into the room and announcing:

“People, it’s me: Jesus Christ, bow down! Let the holiday begin and you gingerbread boys bring me some hot chocolate, now!”

But alas her request was denied because Jesus Christ has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas in Sweden.

Steven Karwoski lives in Malmö with his wife and daughter. He writes about living and working in Sweden and the country’s obvious and not-so-obvious oddities.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

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

SHOW COMMENTS