Christmas traditions in Stockholm
Neelam Varia spotlights some Christmas traditions in Stockholm that ring in the seasonal ambiance.
Originally published December 2017.
Christmas is without doubt one of the best times of the year. The traditions, the indulgence, the cosiness…what’s not to love? During the countdown to Christmas, you can fill your days with a whole range of gluttonous, traditional and family-friendly activities.
There’s just so much going on in Stockholm, but here are some of our favourite Christmas traditions in Stockholm…
Stockholm has a few Christmas markets of note that are a must during the holidays.
Gamla Stan, naturally, is home to the oldest Christmas market in the city, but you’ll also find markets at Skansen, Drottningholm and Kungsträgården. At Gamla Stan’s market, you’ll find unique Swedish specialities like smoked reindeer, elk meat, glögg and a whole range of handicrafts. It takes place at the very centre of Gamla Stan, at Stortorget Square. With over 40 stalls, you could easily spend an afternoon here, sampling artisan cheeses, chocolates and more traditional specialities. You might also find that perfect little gift, for that person who’s always so difficult to buy for!
The Christmas market at Drottingholm, the private royal residence, takes place over a weekend early in December, in the palace’s courtyard. The market isn’t particularly large, but there is a focus on Swedish Christmas delights. Visitors are welcome to take guided tours of the palace.
A visit to Skansen will take you back in time, with traditional food, sweets and handicrafts on offer. Get your hands on Skansen’s own homemade mustard, marzipan, and jams, spices as the joyous sounds of the national choir fills the air.
Read more – Our list of Christmas markets in Stockholm
Said to be the largest real Christmas tree in the world, Skeppsbron Tree really is a sight to behold and will get even the grumpiest of Scrooges into the festive spirit. The tree measures in at an impressive 38 meters and is adorned with thousands of twinkling lights, and has a 4 meter star perched at the very top. Find the towering beauty on Gamla Stan, lighting up the water.
Swedes do seem to enjoy table-based feasts, and Christmas time is no different. While during Midsummer celebrations you’ll find dishes like salmon, pickled herring and potatoes on the feasting table, at Christmas time, you’ll find more hearty dishes, like meatballs, sausages, cheese, with a Christmas ham being the star of the show, and of course, no julbord would be complete without a marzipan pig.
Read more – Experiencing the Julbord: Christmas Smörgåsbord
Alongside Midsummer, Lucia is one of Sweden’s most famed traditions. Held annually on December 13, Lucia celebrates the eponymous ancient mythical figure and bearer of light.
The traditions sees choirs of girls and boys, all wearing ethereal white dresses, wearing candles on their heads and holding candles, singing the Lucia song while sip on glögg and indulge in traditional saffron buns. Almost every school, and plenty of workplaces will have a Lucia concert.
In fact, there is even a national competition for the best Lucia choir. But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a beautiful celebration of light during the ever darkening wintry days in Sweden.
Living Advent Calendar
We’ve all experienced the delight of counting down to Christmas with tiny chocolates sealed behind little decorative doors. Advent calendars bring joy to the littlest and biggest of kids (by “biggest”, I mean adults…), but in Stockholm, the joy doesn’t stop there.
The Living Advent Calendar takes place every year, from December 1-24 in Gamla Stan. Each day, at 6:15pm (and 11:30am on Christmas Eve), a window is opened somewhere in Gamla Stan, and a 15 minute performance ensues. Performances include songs, poetry and story telling. The performances are all in Swedish, but even if your Swedish is a little rusty, it’s still a wonderful experience.
Other calendar traditions include the TV calendar, run by the Public Service. Almost every child in Sweden will be glued to the television in the mornings to watch it. The themes are different each year. They also put out a paper calendar which hints at the next episode, stirring up excitement in all the little Swedes.
On Christmas Eve, at 3pm, Sweden grinds to a halt. Why? Donald Duck, that’s why. Or Kalle Anka to the Swedes.
Every year, Swedes will settle in front of the telly to watch the Swedish version of Disney’s ‘From All of Us to All of You’. It’s the same cartoon that’s played each year, but it’s tradition indeed, and is one of the most watched programmes of the year. You can bet most Swedes can recite the script off by heart.
So if you’re in Sweden at 3pm on Christmas Eve, prepare to drop all other activities and instead join Kalle Anka in a tale of Christmas cheer.
Get your skates on at one of Stockholm’s many free ice rinks this winter. It’s such a magical way to spend an evening, gracefully gliding along the ice lit by twinkling fairy lights. Plus, it’s good exercise, which if you’re anything like me, will be necessary what with the abundance of indulgent Christmas treats, all of which I will be consuming.
The rink at Kungsträdgården is probably a favourite among Stockholmers. Here, there is opportunity to rent skates while at other rinks, such as Vasaparken’s rink, you are required to bring your own.
Feeling adventurous? Try lake skating on Stockholm’s frozen lakes. Lake skating is a little different to rink skating though, so if you’re trying this for the first time, take someone experienced with you.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without mulled wine and glögg is Sweden’s answer to that. It’s made with a whole range of warming spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, that, more often than not, have been soaked in vodka for a day or so. I suppose when temperatures are well into subzero ranges, you need all the warmth you can get.
A glass of glögg is also served with raisins and almonds, so quite unlike any other mulled wine you might have had, but very delicious nonetheless and exactly what you need to ward off the cold.