How to celebrate and enjoy Swedish Advent

How to celebrate and enjoy Swedish Advent
If the darkness of winter's already starting to get you down, the light and merriment of a Swedish Advent should help pick you up. Here the SI News Service answers some key questions about Swedish Advent decorations and celebrations ahead of a key weekend in the country's calendar.

In the past couple of days, several of my neighbours have put wooden triangles with little electric lights on them in their windows. What's that all about?

The triangles are called adventsljustakar, or Advent candlesticks, and signal that the countdown to Christmas has begun.

Advent (the word, which has Latin origins, is the same in Swedish and English), literally means 'coming'. People are supposed to start putting candles up on Advent Sunday, four Sundays before Christmas, which this year falls on December 1st.

By the end of the first week of December, it will seem as though every home, shop and office in Sweden is displaying electric candlesticks.

So tell me more about the origin of the lights?

Advent lights are a modern interpretation of traditional advent candles. As in many other Christian countries, lots of Swedes keep candlesticks with four candles in their homes during Advent. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

Read also: How to decorate for Swedish Christmas

The first electric Advent lights were produced in Sweden in 1934. They generally have seven lights and are often put up a few days before Advent Sunday. They are usually taken down on twelfth night – twelve days after Christmas Day.

In the darkness of a Swedish December, many people are glad to take the chance to spread a bit of light. Indeed, partly thanks to Ikea, Swedish-style advent lights have spread around the world.

Another popular tradition is to hang a paper star in the window. Originally a German tradition, this has caught on in Sweden too. The star symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem.

Lights in windows are all very well. What about the food?

Ah yes – Advent in Sweden is a good excuse to tuck into some seasonal delicacies. The country's favourite festive beverage is glögg, a sweet, warm mulled wine flavoured with spices including cinnamon, cardamom and served with raisins and almonds. Other forms of glögg are made with spirits such as brandy or akvavit.

Glögg parties are popular in December. As well as glögg, you can expect to be served saffron buns (lussekatter) and gingerbread (pepparkakor).

How to make your own Swedish glögg

Most traditional Swedish Christmas foods can be bought in supermarkets, but lussekatter and pepparkakor are best bought in a good konditori – or even better, made at home. 

Another popular way of putting on weight during Advent is via the chocolate Advent calendar. Open one window per day in your calendar between Advent Sunday and Christmas Eve.

What else can I do to make the most of Advent?

Christmas markets are a popular way of enjoying the season. Stockholm has markets at Skansen, Drottningholm and in Gamla Stan's Stortorget.

Gothenburg hosts the country's largest Christmas market at Liseberg. Malmö has a market at Södertull, and many smaller towns and cities across the country host festivities of their own. Expect more glögg, stalls selling local food and handicrafts and festive music.

Another important element of the period is Lucia, or St. Lucy's Day, on December 13th. On this day, schools, offices and even newspapers nominate their own 'Lucia', who walks in procession in the early hours of the morning wearing a crown of candles, accompanied by a song about how St. Lucy overcomes the darkness.


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