wool socks and raw fish – a Scandinavian Christmas

Christmas Around the World

Niss and her family live in Sweden, and today she shares some her favorite traditions and memories.

A little over six years ago, my family moved to Stockholm, Sweden and experienced our first Swedish winter and Christmas. I remember how dark and cold it was already in October when we arrived.  With that said, one of my favorite things about Christmas in Sweden is the beautiful Christmas lights and stars in every window as soon as December 1st arrives. The brilliance of the lights breaks through the darkness and the long winter with a glimmer of hope and warmth. It is a Swedish tradition to “julpynta” or to decorate the house with lights, stars and advent candles on the first of December.  There is also a beautiful first of Advent service in church where the traditional carols are sung.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we bake a lot of different cookies and store them in tins.  We also go to Gamla Stan (Old Town) to see the Christmas Market and take pictures of all the lights.  At the Christmas market, they serve different kinds of Swedish Glögg and pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies). There are also cute handmade ornaments, homemade jams and baked goods, and other Christmas gift ideas to purchase.

In Sweden, the Christmas celebration lasts for three days: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Another Day Christmas. The 24th of December, Christmas Eve, is the main Christmas day in Sweden, where Santa “Tomten” comes to visit. We have adopted the Swedish tradition of having a big “smörgåsbord” for the feast that day. This smorgasbord includes a Christmas ham, Swedish meatballs, mini hotdogs, sill (raw pickled fish), potatoes, knäckebröd, and many sauces and salads. We usually leave out the raw fish…hehe…unless we have Swedish friends joining us.

Then, everyone in the family sits on the sofa at 3pm to watch Donald Duck’s Christmas special, which is aired from 3-4pm every year. It is a conglomeration of old Disney cartoons mixed together. Our kids have thoroughly enjoyed this tradition, as have we…especially our first Christmas in Sweden. Watching Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse with our Swedish friends somehow brought the feeling of “home” and something familiar from our childhoods in the USA, even though we were so far away.

In our family, we really try to combine new Swedish traditions with our favorite American traditions. So our children open some presents on both Christmas Eve and some on Christmas morning.

My absolute favorite Christmas Eve memory in Sweden was two years ago, when our entire family prepared food and presents for the homeless. My boys wrapped up the cookies they baked, and put coffee in thermoses  We also wrapped up wool socks as presents. Then we all bundled up and walked around our island of Stockholm and wished the homeless a Merry Christmas.

The boys were so happy giving out the gifts, cookies and coffee. It was so exciting to see my children come to life and learn how to give. That memory made an impact on their life and they still talk about it being one of their favorite Christmases.

Christmas is truly my favorite time of the year whether celebrating in my hometown with extended family or across the ocean with my immediate family and friends with new traditions. Christmas is a time for sharing yourself with others, a time for laughter and togetherness, a time for giving, a time for remembering, and a time for being thankful for all the gifts God has blessed you with each and everyday. The world would be a better place, if we could all just keep that feeling of Christmas inside of us all year long!

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