7 Christmas Traditions in Sweden

There are plenty of Swedish festivities, holidays and events over the festive season which sees the Swedes practice many distinctive customs. From Lussebullar to St. Lucia, here are some unique Christmas traditions in Sweden that you may not have known about.

7 Swedish Christmas Traditions

1. Swedish season’s greetings

In Swedish, the Christmas greeting is god jul och gott nytt år. This means merry Christmas and a happy new year. Jul is the Swedish for Christmas and nytt means new year.

Christmas traditions in Sweden

2. Swedish Christmas season starts on Advent

In Sweden, the Christmas season starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This four-week period leading up to Christmas is Advent. On the first Sunday of Advent, the Swedes light the first candle in the Advent candlestick. This Christmas tradition in Sweden dates back to the 1890s. There are four candles in the candlestick and every Sunday of Advent someone lights a candle. On Sundays in Advent, many Swedes drink glögg. This is a Nordic warm spicy wine with blanched almonds and raisins. The Swedes eat pepparkakor (spicy ginger cookies) with the wine.

Christmas traditions in Sweden

3. Lussebulle saffron buns

Swedish lussebulle or lussekatt are traditional saffron buns synonymous with Christmas in Sweden. They are also called Saint Lucy’s Day buns as they are traditionally eaten on December 13th, which is St. Lucia’s Day. This pastry is made with an egg and butter enriched sweet dough infused with strands of saffron and juicy raisins. Before putting in the over, bakers curl the buns into a lovely S-shape.

Christmas traditions in Sweden

4. St. Lucia’s Day

One of the biggest celebrations during Christmas in Sweden is St. Lucia’s Day(or St. Lucy’s Day) on December 13th. St. Lucia was a young saint from Italy killed for her faith in 304. On St. Lucia’s Day, young girls dress up as her and sing carols. The girls wear white dresses and a red sash and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of lingonberry branches which symbolise new life in winter. The date is also symbolic as it was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old ‘Julian’ Calendar.

5. Christmas Eve julbord feast

Christmas Eve is also important in Sweden. This is when the Swedish eat their main Christmas meal. Julbord is a lunchtime buffet with a bounty of food, especially cold fish dishes, for instance, herring, gravlax (salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill) and smoked salmon. You’ll also find on the table, cold meats like turkey, roast beef and julskinka (a Christmas ham) as well as cheeses, salads and pickles. Warm dishes also feature including meatballs, prinskorv (sausages), kåldolmar (meat-stuffed cabbage rolls) and revbenspjäll (oven-roasted pork ribs). Dessert will usually be risgrynsgröt sweet rice pudding.

6. Presents from the Christmas Gnomes

In Sweden, presents are brought by Santa who is called Jultomte. Christmas gnomes called Tomte also leave gifts. Male Christmas gnomes or elves are called Nissar or female gnomes/elves are called Nissor. Traditionally, children would leave a bowl of risgrynsgröt rice pudding on the front porch for Santa and the gnomes to eat. However, nowadays, Jultomte and Tomte leave the gifts whilst the children are finishing off their risgrynsgröt on Christmas Eve.

7. Tjugondag Knut (Twentieth Day Knut)

Christmas in Sweden doesn’t end until the 13th of January, a full twenty days after Christmas. The end of the festive period is called Tjugondag Knut (Twentieth Day Knut) or Tjugondag jul (Twentieth Day Yule). The day is named after a Danish prince called Canute Lavard who was later canonised. Traditionally, on Tjugondag Knut, the Swedes take down their Christmas trees and eat any leftover cookies and sweets.

Christmas traditions in Sweden

Melanie May

Melanie is an intrepid solo traveller, endlessly curious about people, places and food. She is a fan of slow travel and loves exploring the world by mouth, discovering a culture through its food. Having backpacked her way around the world she turned her wanderlust into a career and is now a full-time travel writer.

View stories