How the Swedes Celebrate Christmas: St. Lucia's Day, St. Knut's Day, and More

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Christmas in Sweden

God Jul! – That’s not Merry Christmas, but rather Good Christmas in Swedish.

Because Sweden is so far north in Europe, there are very few hours of daylight at Christmas time, but the Swedes know how to enjoy this season. Their festivities begin, as in many Christian societies, with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas, and end with St. Knut’s Day on January 13, when they take down their trees – and sing a song about throwing it away! The Swedes also light Advent candles – four in all; one more is lit on each Sunday until the last Sunday before Christmas Day.

Because the Swedes begin celebrating the season at Advent, an Advent Star is usually displayed in the home. It is made of straw or wood, thin enough that a light placed inside it will be visible. Interestingly, the Swedish custom of making a star, representing the star that led the Wise Men to the Christ child, is also common in the Philippines!

In Sweden, evergreen wreaths are also a common sight on doors, just as in the USA.

On December 13, the Swedes celebrate St. Lucia Day. It is customary for the oldest daughter in the family to wake up before everyone else. She wears a floor-length white dress with a red belt to represent St. Lucia and takes food to the members of her family. Religious processions follow, and a girl in the community is chosen to represent St. Lucia. The boys have their special costume, too. They are called Star Boys. They dress in white shirts, pointed hats with stars on them, and each carries a stick with a star mounted on it.

Straw animals are also a part of Christmas celebrations. Straw is a reminder of the manger where Christ was born. The Swedes also have a Christmas custom about having a straw goat for good luck.

The Swedish Santa Claus is called Jultomten. Because he knocks on the door to bring gifts to the good children in the house, the gifts are called julklapper (can you sense that klap, clap and knock are related words?). Like other Santa-like characters, he needs to have a warm drink while he hands out the presents, reading short poems that hint at what is inside.

Swedish foods at Christmas include cod, ham and pastries. In many parts of the USA, particularly in the northern states where many Swedish immigrants settled, these foods have become as American as apple pie. The Swedish love their Christmas as much as any other people!