Swedish Christmas: how do you celebrate yours?

Counting down the days to Swedish Christmas or can't wait to leave the country? With the help of The Local readers, Christine Demsteader ponders celebrations and tribulations for foreigners during the festive season.

Swedish Christmas: how do you celebrate yours?

Picture the seasonal scene: the family Volvo packed with presents, a picturesque smattering of snowfall covers the streets, and the raspy tones of Chris Rea accompany the ride.

“I’m driving home for Christmas.”

Problem is for me, the journey “home” would now involve crossing six countries and the English Channel.

And the 20-minute congested commute from the office to apartment in Stockholm doesn’t quite muster the same romanticism.

And anyway, I don’t even own a car.

Sweden may be my home away from home, but I want mince pies over meatballs. I want to hear Noddy Holder blasting out his tuneless salutation from the high street rather than a subdued rendition of Nu är det jul igen round the tree.

I want to open my presents at an unearthly 5am hour as opposed to a respectable two o’clock in the afternoon. On Christmas Day proper, not Christmas Eve.

When it comes to Donald Duck versus the Queen’s speech, however, that is admittedly a somewhat tougher call.

Come December, foreigners and international families living in Sweden face a perennial problem that stretches further than accommodating annoying in-laws.

Firstly, what to do after Swedish Christmas, celebrated on Julafton (December 24th), is all unpacked and wrapped up.

On her first Christmas Day in Sweden 20 years ago, American Diane Landau found herself feeling like a misfit.

“Since most Swedish couples have two sides of the family they usually spend Julafton with one side and Christmas Day with the other,” she says.

“With only having my then sambo’s family in Stockholm we had nowhere to go and nothing to do on the 25th. It was quite boring not to have Christmas on Christmas,” she adds.

So she started a tradition of opening her home every year to friends in the same situation.

“We soon found a group of expat couples, a little band of misfits, who join us for our misfit dinner,” she explains.

Now, with a Swedish husband and two kids in tow, balancing both cultures ends up in a double dose of gift-giving for the Landaus.

“There’s the question of when Santa should show up,” she adds.

“I wanted to maintain a memory of my American Christmas, waking early and sleepy-eyed to find something magical had happened in the middle of the night.

“It’s easy for Santa to be magical because you never actually see him.”

Unlike in Sweden, that is, when grandpa or the designated uncle turns up in a white beard and children easily detect the dodgy disguise.

“The kids basically end up with two Christmases,” Landau adds.

A taste of seasonal merriment is essential for Swedes, even those for whom Christmas isn’t complete without a holiday in Thailand.

“They are hybrid traditionalists,” says Landau.

“They take the things they remember the best, what they like the most, and ensure it’s included but otherwise they can modify it to a modern need.”

A tin of anchovies always travels with the Landaus if they travel further afield for Christmas festivities.

“Wherever my husband is in the world he must have his Jansson’s Frestelse – it’s very important to him,” she says.

Jansson’s, featuring cream-soaked shredded potatoes and anchovies, is one of the essential dishes on the Swedish julbord menu – a seasonal take on the famous smorgasbord buffet.

But not everyone chooses to pack their rations of pickled fish.

“Julbord is quite exotic the first time you try it,” says Oscar Gonzalez, a Spaniard who has been living in Sweden for the past 12 years.

“But you soon realize it’s the same menu at midsummer and the same menu at Easter so after 12 years in the country you have julbord times 12, times three and that’s a lot of julbord.”

Gonzalez takes a more pragmatic approach when it comes to the best things about Swedish Christmas.

“It’s nice because Swedes are in a better mood; they can be more talkative when they get in the Christmas spirit,” he says.

“And all the companies I’ve worked for in Sweden shut down so you can have a really good vacation.”

Gonzalez is escaping the snow in exchange for the sun to spend Christmas on the beach in the Canary Islands, “surrounded by Germans and drunken Brits, I guess.”

“Because of the weather in Sweden you have to stay indoors all the time,” he adds.

“It’s cosy but after one day you have had enough of cosiness.”

The same can’t be said for self-confessed Swedophile Emma Scott who moved back to the UK after six years in Sweden and ensured she took a straw goat with her.

“I absolutely loved Christmas in Sweden and the traditions are probably the biggest thing I’ve brought back with me,” she says.

“The Brits try to celebrate too early – as soon as Halloween is over the next thing we think about is Christmas.

“What I like about Sweden is that it really isn’t the case. It was much less stressful and that was what I enjoyed the most.”

Preparations nowadays include a trip to the local Ikea to stock up on gingerbread dough to make the customary cookies and build a gingerbread house.

“It’s always a complete disaster because it always falls down, but it’s just the fun of making it,” says Scott.

“We always did that in Sweden and we’ve just carried it on.”

Pride of place in her kitchen stands the julbok – the ornamental Christmas goat – which often leaves visitors somewhat perplexed.

“I have to explain it to them, that it’s a Swedish thing,” she says.

“When it comes to decorations in Britain it can be a bit garish and tacky with all the tinsel,” she says.

“Mine are typically Swedish; very much red and white, wooden and handcrafted. I think the Brits have lost their way a little bit there.”

Or perhaps Scott has simply become too swedified.

“Oh no, god forbid,” she exclaims. “As much as I love Swedish Christmas I still have to have my turkey.”

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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