Swedish word of the day: julskyltning

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
Swedish word of the day: julskyltning
Julskyltning is in full swing in Sweden. Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Here's a word you may be seeing this weekend or in the next few weeks.


But what does it mean, and what is the history behind it?

Julskyltning literally translates to "Christmas-signing", and it refers to the Christmas decorations in shop windows during the Christmas season.

Julskyltning often occurred on a skyltsöndag or "sign Sunday", which used to refer to the last two Sundays before Christmas. Later, this became the first Sunday in Advent, and now, julskyltning usually starts during the last weekend in November or first weekend in December.

It is not a new phenomenon: the word skyltsöndag has existed in the Swedish language since at least 1895, and an entry in the Nordisk familjebok encyclopaedia from 1917 describes how on skyltsöndagar "no trade takes place, but especially fine wares are displayed in the brightly-lit shop windows in an attractive manner or with small tableaus, usually featuring dolls and toys".

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Swedish shops have had no limit on opening times since 1972 – with the exception of the state-owned alcohol monopoly Systembolaget, which still has strict government-regulated opening hours.

But in 1939, for example, shops were banned from staying open past 6pm, and had to close for the weekend after lunch on Saturdays. This may be part of the reason why skyltsöndagar became popular: they were a way for shop owners to advertise their goods and encourage interest in their Christmas-present offerings at a time when they were otherwise unable to be open.


In many places, julskyltning is more than just displaying Christmas decorations in shops – in some towns and cities, an entire day of Christmas-themed activities are planned to coincide with the cities' shops unveiling their julskyltning.

Perhaps Sweden's most famous julskyltning is at the NK (Nordiska Kompagniet) mall in Stockholm, where elaborate displays of toys and figures engaging in Christmassy activities fill six large shop windows. NK's julskyltning has a different theme every year, which remains a closely-guarded secret until the window displays are unveiled the weekend before Advent.

Have you seen any good Christmas shop windows this year? Or indeed, taken part in any julskyltning activities?

Example sentences:

Min familj har som tradition att besöka NK:s julskyltning varje år.

Visiting NK's Christmas window unveiling every year is a tradition in my family.

Har du sett alla julskyltnings-aktiviteterna de ska ha i Helsingborg nästa söndag?

Have you seen all the Christmas window activities they've got planned in Helsingborg next Sunday?

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