Norman Wesley Brooks said: “Christmas is forever, not for just one day, for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf. The good you do for others is good you do yourself.”
Every holiday has its special nuances and traditions. Christmas is no different, and is arguably one of the most celebrated and recognized holidays. From childhood, we are taught the significance of a holiday from family, friends, and the community. That limited perspective can sometimes drift over into adulthood, and we forget that there are glorious celebrations, which may look different from what we know, all across the globe. For example, here in the United States, Christmas is widely known to be celebrated on December 25th. But, is this the same everywhere? Where did this date come from? The Christmas holiday is meant to honor the birth of Jesus, but this date was never specified in the Bible. So where did it come from? The first official mention of December 25th as Jesus’ Birthday appeared on a Roman calendar from AD 336. However, is this when everyone celebrates the miracle birth?
With this in mind, I started to think about how others view this very special day. So, I set out on a journey, and I would love for you to take a moment to join me for a magic sleigh ride around the world. We will take a peek into the way that some other countries celebrate this very special holiday, and maybe add new practices to our own Christmas traditions.
Sweden Celebrates Christmas, Wishing us “God Jul!”
Christmas is sometimes referred to as the “second most important celebration in the Swedish calendar after Midsummer.”— Royal Djurgården
Can you believe that the Christmas celebration lasts almost 2 months in Sweden? Christmas in Sweden begins on the first Sunday in December and continues until January 13. During this time, there are several celebrations that may seem different than what most people imagine when they think of Christmas.
Forsta Advent Day
The Swedish celebration of Christmas kicks off with the lighting of a special candle on the “Forsta Advent,” or first Sunday, in December. This ceremonial lighting continues for every Sunday in December.
St. Lucia Day – Little Yule
St. Lucia Day is an honoring of a young girl named Lucia who lost her life for her religious beliefs in 304 A.D. This amazing young lady daringly took food to Christians who were hiding from persecution in the catacombs under Rome. For this courage and dedication to God, she is celebrated by Scandinavian countries. During this time, the morning of “little Yule” the eldest daughter in the home wakes early and awakens each family member bearing gifts of coffee and buns. She dresses in a long white dress with a red sash and a crown made of twigs that holds 9 lighted candles. There are also community celebrations where a young girl is selected to be St. Lucia participating in an Advent procession, visits hospitals and schools, and acts as the recognized symbol in parades.
Decorating for God Jul in Sweden
Families in Sweden are much like that of other families around the world who celebrate Christmas. They love to decorate! Whether it is their home, yard, community, or their Christmas tree, decorations are important. They choose to try to utilize the theme of “natural is better.” A favorite activity is to make ornaments out of straw as a reminder of Jesus in His manger. Their Christmas decorations will bring joy to all until January 13th. This is when they take down their Christmas tree and decorations.
Santa Claus Tradition in Sweden
Santa Claus is a jolly tradition in many Christmas stories, and it is no different for the Swedish children. There has been an evolution of this Christmas icon from an angry man who guards local agriculture to the rosy cheeked warm fellow known today. He is believed to look similar to a gnome and goes by Jultomten. Families leave delicious snacks out for Jultomten like rice pudding with cherries and almonds.
Christmas Eve in Sweden
Sunset on December 24th is when Swedish families open presents, but that is not all. At 3:00 in the afternoon, almost everyone in Sweden stops what they are doing to watch the American TV show, “From All of Us to All of You,” or a marathon of Disney movies/shows. That night, families gather for a jalbord feast of things like cold fish, pickled herring, cheese, pickled pigs feet, ham joint and meatballs. There is a very special tradition during this time that includes “risgryngrot” which is a rice pudding dish. There is one bowl that has an almond hidden inside. If you are the lucky winner of this bowl, it means that you will get married in the upcoming year!
Attending Church on December 25th
If December 24th is for family celebrations, you might be wondering what they do on December 25th. Well, Swedish families recognize this as a day for families to attend church.
Next Stop on Our Christmas Traditions Sleigh Ride
Join us again next week for several more Christmas traditions from around the world. We will take a look at a few more countries and how they celebrate. Can you guess what country opens their presents right after midnight on December 24th?