Christmas in Sweden

Christmas in Sweden

Stilla Natt
(Silent Night)

Stilla natt, heliga natt!
Allt är frid, stjärnan blid
skiner på barnet I stallets strå
och de vakande fromma två:
Oss är en frälsare född.

Stora stund, heliga stund!
Änglars här, slår sin rund
kring de vaktande herdars jord
rymden ljuder av glädjens ord
Kristus till jorden är kommen
Oss är en frälsare föff.

Stilla natt, heliga natt!
Mörkret flyr, dagen gryr
räddningstimman för världen slår
nu begynner vårt jubelår
Kristus till jorden är kommen
Oss är en frälsare född.

The Swedish Christmas Scene above depicts Sankta Lucia Day - December 13th

  When researching my Swedish ancestry and I began learning about the customs and our heritage.


Sweden's" Lucia Festival",on december 13, is held at a time
when darkness falls in that country by mid-afternoon.The name Lucia,
or Lucy,means "light",which is something Swedes especially treasure
during the long winter nights.
The real Lucia was kind and courious Christian women who lived
in Italy in the fourth century. It is said that on the night before
her wedding, Lucia gave all her money to the poor. Because no one
could understand why she did that, Lucia was accused of being a
witch and was burned at the stake on December 13 in the year AD 304.
Even after her death, however, Lucia was said to continue helping
those in need. For that reason, she was eventually made a saint.
When Christianity came to Sweden, St.Lucia's role was combined with
that of
Berchta, the early goddness of the hearth, or fireplace. This
goddess was loved for her good heart and for the special care she was
said to give to children.
According to Swedish tradition, the oldest daughter of the family
pretends to be St.Lucia on the morning of December 13. The "Lucia
Queen" dresses in a long white gown and wears a special crown of
evergreen boughs and four candles upon her head. She rises before
dawn to prepare coffee and special saffron buns and serves them to
the rest of the family, while they are still in bed.
As she goes from room to room, the Lucia Queen sings a song of promise
that the darkness will end soon. The sight of this Lucia Queen, with
the candles burning brightly on her evergreen crown, is one that
brings hope, light, and happiness to all. 

This traditional Swedish Festival of Lights, is now a Swedish family tradition in which the eldest daughter, dressed in white with a crown of candles on her head and assisted by her brothers and sisters, brings Lussibread and coffee to her parents at dawn on the darkest day of the year.  (The name Lucia is derived from "lux", Latin for "light.")  As the Swedes and other Scandinavians began to emigrate to other parts of the World, the custom spread, and today, even in these new lands, Swedish peoples participate in Lucia processions along the streets and in hospitals, schools and offices, all parts of the tradition announcing that Christmas soon will he here.. It is celebrated wherever Swedes and others of Scandinavian ancestry live, including many communities in the USA.

In Sweden, On Sankta Lucia Day, the villagers walk in processions to church, sometimes for many miles in the deep snow, singing as they walk. Very early on that morning, a young girl from the village (who has been chosen for that year) is dressed as Sankta Lucia, with a long white robe and a crown of evergreens and lighted candles encircling her head. She delivers freshly baked Saffron rolls, studded with raisons, called Lussibread. They are generally shaped into figure eights with a raison in the center of each loop. In each family, this scene is often repeated, and the family "Sankta Lucia" must rise early, bake the rolls and make the fresh coffee to serve to her family.

Swedish Christmas Poem

My Grandmother wrote this poem about those Christmas celebrations in the
"Old Country" If not for the discussion on Christmas traditions I would not have gotten to revisit her words. Thank you for letting me share...

- Diane Johnson

Jul-Tide Pilgrimage

In fancy, I go to the Northland,
At Christmas time long, long ago,
When my Mom was a small girl in Sweden
And forests were laden with snow.

She helped choose the spruce on the hillside -
The prettiest one to be found;
Granddad felled it and loaded the stoneboat
With small folk and tree, homeward bound.

Red lingon have long since been gathered
For jam as a holiday treat;
They grow in the moss-covered marshes,

Come hither to fill their wood buckets
And thrill to the cuckoo's call,
That chimies from the top of a pine tree -
A peace and good will song to all!

The candles are moulded from tallow,
Good Julbread and fruit soup is made;
Round cheeses, stuffed sausage and lutfisk,
Will humble festivity aid.

Preparedness is now in full motion,
The floor is sand-scrubbed and looks white,
With a door mat of evergreen branches -
Some on stove for incense delight.

This Christmas is full of surprises,
Red apples now sway in the tree;
Dear presents - so graciously home-made,
And eyes that are starfilled, I see.

It's Christmas Eve! In this lowly dwelling
The true Jul-tide Spirit abides,
The head of the house reads the Story -
The love of the Christ Child presides.

At dawn, on their brisk walk to God's House,
Groups carol the long six-mile way -
Thus honor the Babe with their presence
And worship on this Blessed Day.

May you, too, have a heart-warming Christmas,
Find you in each good thing God lends
And thrill as each candle-light hallows
The Gift that His Love to you sends.

by Phoebe Carolina Swanson Johnson
December 1962
Sioux Falls, South Dakota


'Julen' - Christmas

A student at the Luleå University in Sweden, describes Christmas this way:


"Christmas is the longest and biggest of the holliday around the year. The schools are closed for a couple of weeks and they children has an holliday.

The height of the celebration is Christmas Eve, the 24:th of December, followed by the two hollidays Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Christmas festivities involves numerous traditional activities and attributes, the most important of which are the Christmas tree, the Christmas meal and the visit of the jultomte (Christmas gnome).

Jultompte is a knome, who by legend lives in the barn or under the floor boards of the house. Jultompte is said to watch over the home and the family members. In return, Jultompte only asks for a bowl of hot rice pudding on Christmas Eve. When he is done enjoying his meal, you will find the empty bowl and a satchel of presents left on the porch.

Julbock, a straw goat, is often seen with Jultompte as he makes his rounds to watch over the home and deliver presents. Swedish homes will have a Julbock placed in front of their Christmas trees for good luck

Introduced in Sweden from Germany, the Christmas tree has been a part of Christmas in Sweden since the 1700:s. It was not until the present century that the custom became general, however.Nearly every Swedish household now brings in a tree one or two days before Christmas and decorates it with sparkling objects, gaily wrapped candies, glass bulbs and so on.

[ I have been told by Swedish friends that small straw goats, "julbocks", are also placed on the Christmas tree and sometimes used in place of the tree-top star.-T.A.D. Dec., 2000]

The tree is kept watered and many housholds keep their tree until the very end of the holliday, which falls on the twentieth day after Christmas, Knuts day in the swedish calendar.

Christmas Eve, then is the height of the festivities. Traditionally it is a day when no work should be done other than seeing to one's livestock. This is the day of the Christmas feast, which comprises a smörgåsbord including a few traditional dishes such as ham, jellied pigs feet, lutfisk and rice porridge. Lutfisk (literally: lye-fish) is most likelly a throwback to a period of fasting from pre Reformation times. It is a dish prepared of ling that is dried and then boiled. The Christmas feast also includes a tradition called "dipping in the kettle" (dopp i grytan), in which the assembled family and guests dip bits of bread in the broth left over after boiling the ham. Both lutfisk and "dipping in the kettle" are actually a poor mans fare from olden days, but they live on thanks to their role in holiday festivities.

After the meal, it is time for a visit from the tomte. He was believed to live under the the floor boards of the house or the barn. The tomte was credited with looking after the family and their livestock. Tiward the turn of the past century a Swedish artist began producing greeting cards illustrated with gnomes. Her figures were a tremendous success and soon the tomte had assumed a role comparable to that of the various Santa Claus figures in other countries. He is believed to come with presents. In many households nowadays, someone disguised as a gnome comes on Christmas Eve with a large sack of presents.

By tradition Swedes attend church in the small hours (about 7 o clock in the morning, much to early for my taste...) Christmas morning. In olde days it was a custom to have a race to the church in sleds or wagons home from the services. The winner of the race was believed to have the best harvest the comming year. Otherwise, the day is spent quietly within the family circle, with Christmas parties and get-togethers the following day and on throughout the holidays until Knut's day a week after Twelfth Night. "


Another person tells this:

"On little Christmas Eve (December 23), we decorate the Christmas tree. For supper, rice porridge is served with milk and cinnamon and the leftovers are used for the delicious dessert, ris-ala-malta, the next day. Christmas Eve is the height of the celebration, rather than Christmas Day. For dinner the traditional lutfisk is served with boiled potatoes and mustard sauce. Afterwards, Tomten or Santa Claus comes with a sack full of presents to hand out to the children who have been good. The evening celebration is complete with dancing around the Christmas tree.

On Christmas morning we go to church in the quiet darkness. Brightly lit torches show the way through the glistening snow to our church aglow in candlelight. "


A Special Memory ~ from a Swedish American

Christmas in NewYork

This story is perhaps, the best of all, to my thinking. I hope you will love it as much as I do. Thank you Diane for sharing with us your precious memories of a Swedish Christmas in New York!

My favorite Christmas memories are of my Swedish grandfather. Herb, as he
was known to friends, just loved Christmas. He talked to me sometimes about
his beautiful homeland with streets so clean that water ran down them
continuously. Grampa had a big
smorgasbord every Christmas Eve. Family
friends and neighbors were all invited to the small Sumpter St. Flat where he
and grandma resided. I remember him traveling by bus each year to retrieve
Swedish Pickled Herring. The distance was of no importance the quest was
for the best Pickled Herring in NYC. There were
fresh lunch meats and salads
to buy, along with
rye and deep dark pumpernickel bread. Dill pickles,
assorted cheeses and, of course, the herring adorned the table. Grandpa would
encourage all to eat and naturally try this delicacy. I never did.
Still though, my best memory about Grandpa's Christmas was his tree. Back in NYC in the sixties signs would cover the shopping areas with promises of trees 1.00
and up. Don't get ahead of me now, but I bet you all know how much Grandpa paid for his tree without me saying a thing. This became a tradition in our family. How much would he pay for the tree this year? I smiled then at the scrawny little bush covered with a strand of large colored lights garland and tinsel he saved year to
year..The precious ornaments were passed on to me, and .when I think back now
  I smile as I cherish those memories of family long gone. The memories of
laughter  the children's squeals of delight. and a gentler time filled with
real family closeness and love. God Bless You my ancestors for the legacy of
loving memories left behind. Merry Christmas Hogberg and Johanssons where
ever you are. Bless you fellow searchers and may your holidays be filled with
precious new memories as well as the old.

By Diane Hogberg Buddenbohn



LINKS to lots of great sites

Scandinavian Christmas with Martha Stewart

Fabulous decorations, easy to make but very beautiful. Foods & Recipes for Traditional dishes. Information about Swedish traditions and Holiday decorations that you can do yourself. Beautiful presentation. Fun to do. Enjoy!


Christmas in Sweden

A Swedish family offers a history of Swedish holiday traditions and provides recipes for Christmas treats. Link to other holiday resources.

This a great site to visit. It is a contemporary view of Swedish culture, but also has lots of interesting things about their heritage.

A few
Swedish links


Christmas in Sweden

Traditions around Christmas

Anne´s & Johan´s Website

Christmas with Virtual Finland

Yule in Iceland

The Christmas Goat in Gavle, Sweden

Ulla-Janes Jul-hörna

My Christmas Page

Have a Swedish Christmas

More to Come

Recipes & more

Email Me







Wishing you and yours a

Happy Christmas,
or "god jul!"


This Web Site was created & prepared by Teddie Anne Driggs © 2000

With Graphic Designs by Teddie © 1999

Copyrighted 1999/2000 - all rights reserved