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#SwedishChristmas: How a German Christmas tradition became distinctively Swedish

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#SwedishChristmas: How a German Christmas tradition became distinctively Swedish
From four simple candles to a 3-metre behemoth, adventsljusstakar light up Sweden at Christmas. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT
07:59 CET+01:00
Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar.

Swedes may not have invented the concept of the Advent light, but they have spent more than a century adapting and reinventing it, making the Swedish version, known as adventsljusstakar (Advent candelabra), a distinctively Swedish Christmas tradition.

The earliest Advent light tradition, which consisted of lighting candles placed within a wreath of evergreen branches to count down the days until the feast of Christmas, originated in Lutheran Germany, possibly as early as the 1500s. 

In 1839, the first modern German Advent wreath consisted of 20 small red candles, which were lit on weekdays, and four large white candles lit each Sunday of Advent. Though this was eventually simplified to just the four white candles, the tradition first came to Sweden as an adaptation of the more elaborate format.

After spending a year studying nursing in Germany, Marie Cederschiöld returned to Sweden in 1851 to take her place as the first director of Stockholm's Diakonissanstalten (Christian Welfare Institute; now called Ersta Diakoni) in Stockholm. Along with a tremendous compassion for others, she brought with her the Advent and Christmas traditions she had experienced in Germany.

By the 1870s, children at the organization's church were lighting the candles of Sweden's earliest distinctive Advent light. Inspired by but departing from the German tradition, 28 candles were set in an evergreen tree. On the first Advent Sunday, seven of the candles were lit, followed by seven more each successive Sunday until all the candles were lit.


Four Advent candles, one lit every Sunday of Advent. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Over time, the candles were placed in a candelabra instead of a tree, and the number of candles was eventually reduced from 28 to four. The simple four-candle adventsljusstake remained the standard for Advent in Sweden until 1934, when a Swede named Oskar Andersson invented the first electric adventsljusstake.

Instead of modelling his light on the four-candle version, Andersson instead adapted the original Swedish tradition and created a candelabra with seven lights. Although most electric adventsljusstakar still feature seven lights, some feature the traditional four, while others have a seemingly random number like five or nine.

Taking things quite a few steps further, in 1997, Swedish designers Marie Lundgren-Carlgren and Kina Strandberg launched the upscale Elflugan with 19 lights. In the first year alone, more than 10,000 were sold, quickly embedding this thoroughly modern interpretation of the Advent candelabra into the celebration of Christmas in Sweden.

Today, Elflugan is notable as one of the most expensive adventsljusstake on the market, as well as one of the largest. In Jönköping County, two fully-functioning 'Elflugan XL' lights, measuring almost 2.9 metres tall and weighing 150 kilos, are permanently located in public places where they count down to Christmas year-round.


Elflugan designers Marie Lundgren-Carlgren and Kina Strandberg. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

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