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CHRISTMAS

How I learned to love Swedish Christmas

Richard Orange initially found Christmas in Sweden strangely quiet and uneventful. But now, he writes, he's come to appreciate it.

How I learned to love Swedish Christmas
Christmas in Sweden is about enjoying 'mys' with family and food. File photo: Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se
From The Local's archive: Article first published in 2018.
 
“But when is something going to happen?!” I remember whispering to my wife shortly before 3pm on my first Christmas Eve in Sweden.
 
As far as I could see, we seemed to have spent the last six hours doing nothing but drinking coffee and the occasional glass of glögg, eating biscuits, exchanging quiet chit-chat, and very, very slowly preparing what we were going to eat. It seemed more an ascetic exercise in Lutheran self-restraint than a celebration. 
 
Christmas at home in England starts early with lavish stockings stuffed to overflowing with chocolate, sweets and scores of little presents. A little after 10am, we pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, and soon afterwards start ripping the wrapping off the first of many presents. Wine and beer flows all day. 
 
The atmosphere – at least until the late afternoon crash – is manic. And, especially when our extended family comes, it is extremely noisy. 
 
With my wife's family in Sweden, the festivities proceed at a much gentler pace. We don't open any presents until it's dark, and the jultomte knocks and makes his visit. And when we do, the total gift volume is less than half what it would be at my family's in the UK. We don't sit down to the julbord, or drink much in the way of alcohol, until after Kalle Anka, the annual Disney show that is an obligatory part of Sweden's Christmas. 
 
But as I make way up north for my fourth, or possibly fifth, Swedish Christmas, I find I'm now looking forward to it all. 
 
I've more and more come to appreciate what this slow-burn celebration is all about: Mys
 
Roughly equivalent to the candles and cocoa element of Denmark's hygge, mys is all about creating a sort of cosy conviviality and sense of togetherness. For my wife's family, preparing the dishes for the julbord together, making Christmas sweets like knäck or kola (toffee and fudge), and laying and decorating the table, is at least as much a part of Christmas as consuming it all.

The Christmas crafts, or julpyssel, we do with the children in the morning aren't just a way of staving off boredom in the long wait for food and presents as I initially thought. They're an important part of the action, as is the crafting of little riddles for the labels of each of the presents. 
 

When the julbord does finally happen, it's all the better for being more of a joint achievement (rather than in the UK, where it's primarily the production of my stepmother, for whom Christmas means drudgery). 

I even like the fact that when the jultomte arrives (lured by porridge and glögg left outside by the children), he's not jolly like Father Christmas, but so gruff-voiced and strange-looking that my son and daughter are almost frightened to approach him. 
 
Most of all, though, I appreciate the way that Swedish Christmas, at least with my wife's family, is more about who you're with and what you do, than about what you get, eat or drink. 
 
Nowadays, when we're back in the UK for Christmas, I see it more and more with Swedish eyes: the multicoloured tinsel that smothers the tree and walls is garish‚ the enormous heap of presents, plastic packaging, and discarded wrapping paper is excessive; the incoherent, slurred arguments over port and Stilton are perhaps a bit much; the sheer noise of it is exhausting.

Swedish Christmas, at least what I've experienced of it, is much less commercialized and consumerist than what I'm used to in the UK. I do wish it was a bit noisier though. 

 
Seven totally free ways to get into the Christmas spirit in Sweden
Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

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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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