7 Unique Traditions in Sweden

Think you’ve heard everything there is to know about Sweden between IKEA, Dancing Queen and Avicii? Like the rest of the Scandi-cool collection of islands Norway, Finland and Denmark, Sweden is rich in unique traditions, rituals and superstitions. Let’s dig in.

Unique Traditions in Sweden

1. Party on the Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice, Midsommar, is an important date in Sweden’s collective calendar. The whole country grinds to a halt to celebrate the longest day of the year. People hotfoot to the park to nibble on pickled herrings, dance around poles and ever-so-Instagrammable flower wreaths. This never-ending lunch party takes place this year on Friday 24 June 2022, when the sun goes down at roughly 11 pm. So do as the Swedes do and head outdoors. Or, head to a summerhouse in Dalarna for a truly traditional Midsummer, Riksgränsen for skiing under the midnight sun or  Gothenburg  for the country’s blockbuster celebrations at Gunnebo Castle.

unique traditions in Sweden
Editorial credit: Stefan Holm / Shutterstock.com

2. Embrace Lagom

Lagom is more than the short-lived trend that came after hygge. For Swedes, it’s a way of life. It essentially means “not too little and not too much”, and champions the Swedish approach to life of only having what you need and nothing more. Think minimalism, moderation and an overwhelming sense of calm. Get rid of clothes you no longer wear, tackle one item on your to-do list for ten minutes every day, eat a balanced diet… you get the gist.

unique traditions in Sweden

3. Spruce up your pad with Döstädning

Döstädning essentially translates as “death cleaning”. While it might sound dark, it’s actually quite a peaceful practice. Essentially it means that you get your house in order and clutter under control so that you don’t leave it to your grieving family and friends. Rather than being morbid, Margareta Magnusson, who coined the term in her book the Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, says “Death cleaning isn’t the story of death and its slow, ungainly inevitability, but rather the story of life, your life, the good memories and the bad. The good ones you keep. The bad you expunge.” Sounds rather lovely.

4. Congregate around a bonfire on Valborg

Valborg, short for Valborgsmässoafton, celebrates the last of April. Traditionally celebrated by students, groups get together at dusk to light bonfires and listen to speeches to welcome a brighter future. It takes place on 30 April, followed by May Day on 1 May. It also marks King Carl XVI Gustaf’s birthday, so you can expect lots of Swedish flags dotted around local squares and government institutions. Most people head to the park to celebrate, but there are specific events dotted around the city. In Dalarna, they celebrate with a fire show inside the old iron ore mine Äventyrsgruvan, in Karlstadthey light a huge large bonfire in Mariebergsskogen city park and in Uppsala around 100,000 locals hotfoot to Ekonomikum Park for a ‘people’s party’.

unique traditions in Sweden

5. Christmas peaks on 24th December

Christmas is important in Sweden and lasts for a long time too. It kicks off about four weeks before Christmas, with the first candle in Advent. Each Sunday until Christmas, families light a candle and tuck into glögg – a hot, spicy mulled wine with blanched almonds and raisins and pepparkakor (gingerbread biscuits). Then, on Christmas Eve, Julafton, Swedes head to church and then return home to a traditional family smörgåsbord of cut meats, fish and sweets. After dinner, Tomte arrives. 
Christmas traditions in Sweden

6. Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day

Christmas is important in Sweden, but so is St. Lucia’s Day, also known as St. Lucy’s Day. It takes place on December 13th and marks the day when Italy killed young Saint Lucia in 304 AD. Today, young girls dress up in white dresses, don a red sash and wear a crown of candles or lingonberry branches to celebrate her life. The date also marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.

7. Stuff your face on Cinnamon Bun Day

The Swedish Home Baking Council invented Cinnamon Bun Day in 1999, and the Swedes didn’t need much encouragement to turn it into a local tradition. The council launched the celebration to promote Swedish baking traditions, which were falling out of favour. Cinnamon buns play a starring role. Come October 4th, you can feast on these sugar-flecked sticky buns to your heart’s content.

While cynics will say it’s a marketing ploy, Ethnologist Jonas Engman from Stockholm’s Nordiska Museetpreviously claims it has gained popularity due to a Swedish identity. He says, “Romanticized national ideas are very strong, particularly in the political sphere. It’s not just the parties that are linked to it, but it also has something to do with how we are negotiating the national experience of being Swedes.”

interesting facts about Sweden

Allie D'Almo

Allie is a passionate traveller with a hearty interest in great food and stories. She likes to travel slowly, particularly to underrated and underloved places. She’s lived in Italy and is now based in London, where she spends most of her time either plotting her next trip or writing about her last one.

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