#BecomingSwedish: ‘How you celebrate is more important than why you celebrate’

The Christmas holidays provided plenty of opportunity to better understand what it means to be Swedish, writes Tomas Spragg Nilsson.

#BecomingSwedish: 'How you celebrate is more important than why you celebrate'
Celebrating Swedishly. Photo: Carolina Romare/

A month has passed since I started working my way through a list of tasks that were designed to culturally qualify me to become Swedish. The idea behind my #BecomingSwedish 'hinklista' (a bad direct translation of 'bucket list') is to visit famous Swedish places, eat Swedish food – and generally engross myself in a variety of experiences.

All these adventures need to take place before I put in my application for Swedish citizenship in autumn 2019. I also plan to complete every task on the list with a real life Swede – helping me tackle the difficult task of making friends with Swedes.

I dwelled on this last point in my first article about the project. I realized that for this to be a meaningful discovery and integration experience, it should be less about 'learning about Sweden', and more about 'learning from Swedes about what it means for them to be Swedish'. In this vein, I hoped my article would spur on helpful souls to get in touch.

I was not disappointed. Swedes from Skåne to Norrland, Darlarna to Uppsala, and even some in my own backyard, Sollentuna, got in touch. My puzzle for the upcoming weeks is to figure out how to make these adventures happen. When I started this project, I had no idea how much logistical planning (and frankly, financial cost) it would entail. But I’m not complaining. I got myself into this.

It was the many emails that filled my inbox from new Swedes or new arrivals in Sweden however, that really warmed my heart. It has been so inspiring to hear from The Local Sweden’s readers of their own integration tales. It would be fair to say that not all I have spoken with have had an easy time integrating, but the stories I’ve heard have given me new energy for the project. It’s been hard keeping up with all the emails – so I’ve set up a Facebook Page as a place to keep the conversation going.

That’s enough about the conversations I’ve been enjoying for now though. Let’s instead recap on the progress I’ve made crossing things off the list. I’m very happy to report that in the last weeks I have managed to experience six of the items on my list. The less good news is that I’ve realized that I miscounted the list in the first place, and that there are in fact 72+1 tasks on the list. Oh well – it’s still progress, I guess.

Unsurprisingly given the time of the year, I have been focusing on the Christmassy items on my list, beginning with Julmust. I’ve always been a fan of Sweden’s favourite yuletide brew – and I had the chance to interview a real enthusiast, author Anna Carlstedt. I found it particularly refreshing to learn about the Roberts family business, that has for seven generations made the original Julmust syrup that all breweries in Sweden now use. Not only does this family’s product massively outsell Coca-Cola’s sales in Sweden each Christmas – but the owners of the company have also refused to bow down to regular buyout offers. A rare ‘David and Goliath’ tale for the modern consumer market.

December also brought with it my new favourite Swedish Christmas tradition: Lucia. I’d never experienced the lady who brings light into the darkest of winter months before – so I decided to go all in and attended no less than four Lucia concerts in one day. I managed to catch up with Markus from Kammarkören Cantare after one of their fabulous performances at Skansen. What rung most true for me in our conversation is that when celebrating Lucia, as is with many Swedish traditions, the how you celebrate it, is much more important than why you celebrate.

With Lucia carols still swirling around my head, I thought I was almost done with #BecomingSwedish for December. That was until the radio station P4 Stockholm (a regional public broadcaster) got in touch with the idea that I should complete one of my tasks live on air. I hastily said yes, before realizing my radio debut would include me singing the national anthem live on air, during a peak drivetime show. A kind colleague gave me a singing crash course and I managed to stumble my way through a conversation/singalong on the radio (in Swedish). Hopefully I didn’t upset too many Swedes with my poor pronunciation of the national anthem!

My personal integration project will continue well into 2019 – so if are interested in meeting up for an adventure – please do get in touch! I’ll continue to write for The Local about the project in the new year, and do keep a look out for my regular uploads on YouTube.

Until next time, god fortsättning – and here’s to hopefully becoming Swedish this year!

As a reminder, here’s the ‘hinklista’ in full:


Falun Mine
Höga Kusten
Göta Kanal


Ice Hockey (Djurgården and AIK)
Jumping in ice hole after sauna
Cross country skiing
Dog sledding
Outdoorsy stuff in winter
Ice skating
'Sladda med 245:a'
Midnight sun
Be on a styrelse
Play with reindeers
Sing in choir


Flygande Jakob
Masses of lingon
Falukorv with pasta and ketchup
Homemade cinnamon bun

Learn to

Exhale and inhale to say yes and no
Use English words when speaking Swedish
Memorize the weeks of the year
Become emotionally detached
Not brag
Complain about weather
Not talk to strangers
Stand in line
Cancel on a friend to spend time alone
Stop being loud in public
Master lagom
Du gamla du fria
Abba lyrics


Vår tid är nu
Swedish reality TV
Moa Martinsson
Millennium Trilogy
Mannen på taket
Astrid Lindgren
Nile City
Göta Kanal
Kalle Anka
August Strindberg
Selma Lagerlöf
Ture Sventon
F**king Åmål
Torsk på Tallinn
Skrotnisse och hans vänner
Den bästa sommaren
Vilse i Pannkakan

Tomas Spragg Nilsson is a politics-obsessed communications professional and storyteller, based in Stockholm. In his spare time, he has embarked on an integration project that will have him travel the country in an attempt to understand what it means to become a Swedish citizen.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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/


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/

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


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


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