December 24 is the main Christmas event in Sweden, which might be quite different from when other countries celebrate on Christmas Day. But, here are some unique Swedish Christmas traditions which can be enjoyed by everyone.
The Gävle Goat
In this tiny town, the Gävle Goat stands at thirteen meters tall and is erected every Christmas season. It is also usually mysteriously set on fire and burned down. The first straw goat was in 1966 and it was burned down by unknown individuals on New Year’s Eve. Since that time, people from around Scandinavia and the world wait and watch to see how long the goat will last. Many precautions have been undertaken through the years to keep the goat safe … however, its ultimate demise has become tradition.
That Donald Duck thing
This is serious business. Every Christmas Eve, family gathers around the TV at 3:00pm to watch Kalle Anka och Hans Vänner önskar God Jul or Donald Duck and his Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas. This is a Disney cartoon collection which actually has nothing to do with Christmas … yet, Swedes love it and most know all the words and lyrics by heart. It has been broadcast every Christmas Eve since 1959 without commercial interruption.
We have trolls
Tomte is a mythological creature which is often represented in the Swedish home at the holiday. His troll-like appearance is associated with winter solstice and Christmas season. He is also the gift bringer. Tomte is described as being no taller than three feet high, he has a long white beard and wears a knit cap far down over his eyes. According to tradition, Tomte, lives in our houses and barns, and acts as our guardian. If well behaved, Tomte will delight us with gifts and will protect the family and animals from misfortune. But Tomte is known for a bit of a short temper, and if offended, beware of the tricks he will play.
The highlight of Christmas, where every horizontal surface of a Swedish home is covered with candles, decorations and mostly food. The Swedish Christmas table, or Julbord, is a buffet or what some may consider a feast. Typical dishes include gravlax (cured salmon), a variety of herring, smoked salmon, cheeses, breads, pate, pickles, candies, lollipops, and sweets. The main dishes are often warm and savoury and include, of course, meatballs. And ham, sausages, potatoes, red cabbage, Janssons Frestelse (a casserole with potatoes layered in cream, onion and anchovies, baked to a delicious golden brown). Wash it all down with glögg (mulled wine) or coffee.
Do you think the holiday season ends after the New Year celebration? Not so in Sweden. The official end of the Christmas season falls on January 13th (twenty days after Christmas). On that day families remove their Christmas tree and decorations and set their sights on the coming spring season.
While celebrating Christmas in Sweden might be new to you, people around the world all embrace the love and wonder of this special holiday season. Friends and family, holidays and hugs, forgiveness and rebirth … the magic of the season is something we all can share.