Christmas traditions in Sweden are changeable and surprising, as a look back at history shows. Did you know, for example, that in the past it was believed that children born on Christmas night ran the risk of becoming werewolves, or that in the 13th century Christmas was a celebration in honour of the sun god?
Swedish Christmas traditions are a mixture of a whole range of customs from different sources, both pagan and Christian. Toasting is a tradition from the Viking Age, when people raised their drinking horns to each other. Conversely, the lutefisk that some people eat at Christmas is a custom from the Catholic Middle Ages because it was originally part of the Christmas fast.
In addition, Swedish Christmas celebrations have elements from all over the world. Anka's Christmas on TV comes from the USA. The Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, the Advent calendar and the Advent star come from Germany. The Christmas card, mistletoe and turkey seder comes from England, and the nativity scene from Catholic church plays in Italy. The Christmas tree originated in Alsace in southern Germany in the early 17th century, when people hung apples and sweets on it.
It is clear that in modern Swedish Christmas celebrations one finds elements of both a roguish peasant society and of the bourgeois Christmas in the city at the turn of the 20th century. So let's take a deep dive into what Christmas traditions in Sweden looked like from the Middle Ages onwards!
Pagan Christmas traditions in Sweden
Christmas for our pagan ancestors was not limited to a few days, but was a a period of time, a Christmas season. It is believed that a longer festive period with several different feasts with elements of or blot occurred between November and January, during the darkest time of the year. Under solstice, the dead and the trolls were believed to be at their most powerful and dangerous.
Something that characterises Christmas today is its red days in the calendar. It had already been legislated in the Nordic countries in the 12th century that there should be Christmas peace between 25 December and 6 January.
In the Middle Ages, another meaning was added to this pagan feast, and the memory of of the birth of Jesus. Until the 17th century, Christmas also served as the New Year. Now the working year was coming to an end, and with the rest it brought came both peace and joy. Because of the darkness, working days were short, there was a rest period in the growing year, and supplies were well stocked.
Through Snorre Sturlason in the early 13th century we know that the pagan northerners celebrated three sacrificial feasts a year. One at the beginning of summer, one in autumn, and one in midwinter, when they sacrifice for good crops, hunting and fishing luck. Christmas was both a midwinter sun festival to of the sun or sun god and a sun cult, to celebrate that from now on the light would come return. At the same time, Christmas was a time to remember the dead and to hold a feast for the souls honour of the souls. But the most important thing was to celebrate the coming year's growth and to bring the old year to carry over into the next year.
Christmas trees and Santas
The first known Christmas tree dates from 1741 and was decorated with wax candles, saffron rings and apples. Other later Christmas tree decorations included nuts, homemade caramels in fine paper,
sewn silk paper strips, and a flag at the top. The word Christmas itself is related to the Norse and Norse angelic languages, and in the north of England people still speak of "yule". Approximately
year 900, the word "jól" appears for the first time, in a tribute to the Norwegian king Harald Hårfager in the formula "to drink Christmas". The farmstead has been part of Swedish folklore since the 700s and 800s, as has been established in linguistics. While the word Santa Claus appears for the first time in 1864.
Christmas dinner in the Middle Ages
Ever since the Middle Ages, the Christmas pig has been an integral part of the Swedish Christmas tradition. The Christmas pig began to be fattened as early as the summer. At that time, nuts were also gathered for Christmas and the wreaths of midsummer flowers, birch leaves and mint to be laid the Christmas bath to give it a pleasant scent of summer and recharge the water with the high summer power. As early as September, cheese-making began in preparation for Christmas.
On Clement's Day on 23 November, the autumn chores would be finished, for the harvest year was over. The family new clothes and shoes, so the tailor and the shoemaker had a lot to do, no matter whether they were taking orders at home or wandering from farm to farm with their tools on their backs and doing their work on the spot.
Scary Swedish Christmas traditions
Christmas traditions in Sweden during the peasant society were characterised by a strong folklore. On Christmas Eve, a layer of fragrant rye straw about 15 cm thick was sprinkled on the cleaned floor. The people of the house would then sleep there, as they gave up their own beds to the dead relatives of the farm during this night. Such an act was also considered very good for fertility. Christmas straw was often left until twenty knots. In addition, it was considered dangerous to go out during Christmas night, because there was a lot of uncleanliness going on. For example, children born during Christmas night ran the risk of becoming werewolves.
A widespread belief was that Christmas night was the night of the dead, when they were happy to return to their homes. The custom of putting out food on Christmas night is linked to these old beliefs. So it was not only the farm boy who was put out the porridge, to look after him so that he continued to work for the prosperity of the farm, but also the Christmas food was left out overnight after eating, so that one's deceased family members could partake of all the goodness.
At the same time, bonfires and Christmas lights would burn all night. The candles were usually placed in a bowl of water as a safety precaution. The next day you could wash yourself in that water, because it was believed that it would then have magical power. If tallow had spilled into the water, you could tell what would happen in the future from the shapes it formed. On Christmas night, the sauna would be kept warm so that the dead could use it.
It was also believed that the dead celebrated Christmas Eve in church at midnight before the living arrived to celebrate their Christmas Eve - which in the old days meant as early as 4am! Traces and remnants of the dead having been in the church could be dust and small scraps of cloth. It was called death wool and was thought to have a healing and curative effect and was used as an ingredient in medicines of the time.
What did a Swedish Christmas Eve look like in the past?
Christmas Eve used to be an early day in the old farming community. Christmas breakfast consisted of sausage and pork. Early in the morning, Christmas would be "pinned up" by family members together. A woven or crocheted cloth was hung from the roof of the cottage, and then in the middle of it a crown of straw, usually rye. In the corners of the cloth were hung apples, and sometimes garlands of evergreens. New curtains would also be hung in the windows before and on the walls and rafters Christmas ornaments of paper or fabric.
Often these had biblical motifs, such as "The Three Wise Men", "The Birth of Jesus" and "Jonah in the Belly of the Whale". Finely chopped spruce or juniper was sprinkled on the floor. And then the men of the farm would chop Christmas wood. They were given brandy to keep both the warmth and the spirits up. Then they went to make sure that everything looked good and that no tools were lying around. outside. Meanwhile, the women of the farm took care of the food. Everyone in the household would also take their Christmas bath. First the farmer had a bath, then the children and the servants. The wife came last. The bath water could not be turned off for three days! No one was allowed to pour out anything at all hot water during Christmas, because then you could burn the goats.
Christmas presents go back to the custom in the old peasant society that the servants would receive a gift for Christmas. Often they received a piece of clothing, which was actually part of their annual salary. Within the bourgeoisie, for example, it was long customary to give the maid a dress for Christmas. The word "Christmas gift" comes from the fact that the person who gave the gift knocked on the door before the gift was thrown in. The giver would also be invisible. But the servants also received extra allotment of food.
It is clear that much of the Christmas traditions in Sweden have changed over time. Which Christmas traditions do you appreciate the most? Sign up for free and leave a comment!