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WINTER IN SWEDEN

Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas

Wondering how to get that Scandinavian Christmas feeling in your own home? Here are The Local's top ten decorating tips for a Swedish-style 'God Jul'.

Decorating your home for Swedish Christmas
Swedish Christmas decorations on the tree. Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedes may be some of the most secular people in the world, but they sure do love celebrating Christmas. Who can blame them? Winter is dark and dreary, and the chance to light it up  with a bit of holiday cheer is irresistible. 

In December the streets are filled with shoppers, and tinsel garlands and stars are hung from building to building. Christmas markets open many towns and the air is filled with the scent of candied almonds and warm spiced glögg.

And homes are not neglected – in fact, they're the most important part. Welcome to The Local's guide to Christmas decorating, Swedish style. (PS – click the links to shop certain items in The Local's webshop)

1. Candles in every room


Candles around the house. Photo: Fredrik Persson/SCANPIX/TT

The first step of Swedish Christmas spirit is to light a load of candles. Thousands, even. There's even a song about it. There should be a candle (or three) in every room and in every window. (Just don't leave them burning when you leave).

Swedish tradition offers a plethora of beautiful options to choose from, including simple brass holders, red wooden holders and candelabra, and advent candle holder sets. Many households use triangle-shaped sets of electric candles for advent as well. The only rule is to light up the dark Swedish winter!

2. Advent chimes


Swedish angel advent chimes. Photo: Marcus Hansson/Flickr

As we already established, Swedish Christmas is all about candles, warmth, music, and light. So in addition to your normal Christmas tunes and your candles in every window, make sure to have one of these charming little advent chimes (änglaspel).

The heat from the four small candles moves the cherubs around in a circle, chiming and producing a lovely little background melody for your festivities.

Buy Swedish Christmas items at The Local Brands

3. Lucia roleplay


Children dressed up as Lucia and star-boys. Photo: Cecilia Larsson Lantz/imagebank.sweden.se

You can't have Swedish Christmas without celebrating Santa Lucia first, as any Swede would tell you. And although the beauty-pageant aspect of the tradition is on the wane, it's still a family tradition for the kids to dress in white, bear candles and warm saffron buns, and sing traditional songs. 

The girl (or boy, nowadays – why not?) chosen to play Lucia herself usually wears candles in her hair – traditionally real candles, but usually batter-operated or plush today. Boys traditionally wear pointed white hats as 'starboys'. 

4. Advent stars


Advent stars in Sweden. Photo: Miriam Preis/imagebank.sweden.se

Thought candles were enough? You thought wrong. Light up the dark both inside and out with advent stars. These stars, usually made from paper or metal, are hung throughout cities as well as in the windows of many homes. The star has been used in Sweden since at least 1894,  and quickly became all the rage. 

The star is meant to represent the Star of Bethlehem, and is lit up on the first Sunday of Advent. Most Swedes don't turn them off until January. 

5. Christmas greenery


A collection of traditional Swedish Christmas plants. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Midst the bleak, grey winter, Swedish Christmas also demands a touch of green. Wreaths are hung on doors both inside and out, either evergreen or made of straw. Wreaths can be circular or heart-shaped. 

For an extra bit of life, many Swedes also buy hyacinths for Christmas. The flowers are sometimes planted in advent candle holder tins, and are meant to bloom in time for Christmas. 

6. Tomtar and Nissar


Tomtar candles. Photo: Lise Åserud/NTB scanpix/TT

Although the modern American version of Santa Claus (based on the Dutch tradition) has been gaining traction in Sweden and has largely claimed the name of 'Tomten', the traditional Swedish 'jultomte' (Christmas gnome) was indeed a little old gnome with a long grey beard.

Buy Swedish Christmas items at The Local Brands

Today children are still brought presents by a tomte (usually a relative in a Santa suit), but the traditional tomtar and nissar (elves) make their appearances in ornament and other little figurines around the home. 

7. The Christmas Goat


Swedish Christmas goats don't just exist in small sizes. Photo: Pernilla Wahlman/SCANPIX/TT

Reindeer, you say? Nej, when it comes to Christmas, Swedes prefer a goat.

The Yule Goat has its origins in pagan tradition  and may have connections to the Norse god Thor, whose chariot was drawn by goats. In more recent times the goat has been presented as a mischievous, rowdy figure, sometimes demanding gifts and sometimes giving them.

Another tradition was to hide secretly the straw goat in a neighbour's house. When the family pranked discovered the goat, their task was to hide it in someone else's home. 

8. Straw ornaments


A traditional Swedish Christmas ornament, a star made of straw. Photo: Jurek Holzer/SvD/TT

Do you see a theme here? Swedish Christmas is full of straw. In addition to straw wreaths and straw goats, many Swedes decorate their trees with straw ornaments

The traditional ornaments come in a variety of traditional shapes including several varieties of stars, angels, pine cones, and – of course – goats. The golden straw is bound with red string and red accents. 

Of course, golden straw isn't the only ornament to grace the tree. Other common decorations include woven paper hearts and surprisingly-patriotic strings of Swedish flags. And why not a few Dala horses or reindeer?

9. Kitsch in the kitchen


Saffron buns, ginger bread and Glögg. Photo: Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

As with many cultures, Christmas in Sweden also means plenty of fun in the kitchen. Families and friends spend hours baking saffron and cinnamon buns, Christmas breads, cookies, and more. Caramel knäck snacks and glasses of glögg are also a must. 

The kitchen must not be neglected when it comes to festive decorations. Many families have special Christmas tea towels, dish rags, bread bags, table cloths, cookie cutters, and baking forms. And don't forget the candles!

10. Christmas cards


Swedish Christmas cards featuring jultomten. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/SCANPIX/TT

Finally, don't forget to share your Christmas joy. While Swedes have a reputation for being reserved and not interacting much with their neighbours, Christmas is a bit of an exception. If you want to do things right, send out those Christmas cards – you're guaranteed to get a few in return.

Swedish Christmas cards can be modern and feature any winter theme, but also frequently show more traditional artwork, such as the old-fashioned jultomte or reindeer. Receiving a Christmas card is no trifling matter – put it on display in the hall or kitchen, and keep them there all month long.

This article was written for The Local Brands. Explore the Christmas section here

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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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