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The lowdown on the 20th day of Christmas

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The lowdown on the 20th day of Christmas
Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se
11:46 CET+01:00
On the 20th day of Christmas my true love gave to me… Wait, what? Yes Sweden's festive calendar is slightly different and Friday is the 20th day of Christmas. The Local's Paul O'Mahony explains why.

Christmas has twelve days and that’s quite enough, you grumble. Not so! In Sweden the festive season isn’t over until St. Knut says so.

Who is St. Knut and what’s he got to do with anything?

Knut Lavard (or Canute), was a Danish prince who was murdered by a dastardly cousin in the early 12th century. He was then made a saint. A few hundred years later his ‘name day’ began to be celebrated on January 13th and became synonymous with the end of Christmas.

A popular farmers’ handbook later also linked the tradition to another Knut, an earlier Danish king. 

It’s hard to argue with two Knuts. But what happens?

Ever since the 19th century Swedes have traditionally waited until St. Knut’s Day to throw out their Christmas trees, though many modern Swedes chuck the spruces a week earlier, on Epiphany. Like the rest of the world, they’re sick of all the Christmas hits and getting pine needles stuck in their feet.  

Families schlepp their trees to designated areas where often they’ll be carted off by the authorities to be burned to generate district heating.  

How very Swedish! What else goes on?

Children and adults dance around the tree before it’s taken down, and any remaining edible decorations are happily gobbled.

In more impoverished times, this ‘plundering’ of the Christmas tree was a huge treat for hungry children. 

Do people really still celebrate Christmas at this late stage?

A lot of the St. Knut’s Day traditions were at their most popular in the years after the Second World War but they haven’t totally died out by any means.  

All of this is new to me. I don’t know what to say.

This is what you should say: Tjugondag Knut körs julen ut (On Knut's 20th day, Christmas is driven out) and Tjugondag Knut kastas granen ut (On Knut's 20th day, the Christmas tree is thrown out). 


Ho ho ho, Grinchy, it rhymes in Swedish. Happy St. Knut's Day!   

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