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Celebrate Christmas: Scandinavian Style

Nov 29, 2007
Scandinavia, which includes the countries of Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, has a variety of beautiful and unique Christmas traditions.

While there are a number of similarities, like the use of candles and a combination of red and white decorative elements, there are also many traditions that are unique to each of the Scandinavian countries.

The length of the Christmas season also differs, ranging from an eight day celebration in Norway to twelve full days in Sweden.

Finnish Christmas Traditions:

The Christmas season begins after the first weekend of Advent. Advent, which means "coming," refers to the coming of the Christ.

With Advent comes a multitude of Christmas decorations and a number of pre-Christmas gatherings. After Advent, the next important holiday is Independence Day, which coincides with the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6th.

As is common with other Scandinavian countries, the main Christmas celebration and meal takes place on Christmas Eve. The meal frequently includes: pickled herring, roe, raw salmon, carrots, potato casseroles, ham, and a vegetable salad called rosolli.

For dessert, the Finns frequently serve cinnamon biscuits and a cold dish made of pureed plums.

One tradition, which seems to be unique to the Finns, is the honoring of the dead. Finnish families visit cemeteries and place lit candles on the graves of their loved ones.

The flickering of candlelight grows throughout the day, creating a beautiful and unforgettable site beneath the dark blue sky.

Danish Christmas Traditions:

Danes main celebration is on Christmas Eve but continue their celebration through December 26th. The family gathers to decorate the tree with lit candles, paper decorations, fruits, sweets and small Danish flags.

The families dance around the tree, sing traditional songs and exchange gifts. One of the gifts includes month-long "calendar candy" which is still given in Denmark today.

The Christmas Eve meal is traditionally either roast duck or goose stuffed with apples and de-stoned prunes. Side dishes include sweet and sour red cabbage and potatoes covered in rich brown gravy made from the juice of the roast duck or goose.

Norwegian Christmas Traditions:

Most Norwegian homes have a pine or spruce tree decorated with tinsel, white lights, small Norwegian flags and a variety of other ornaments.
The children make Christmas baskets of colored paper and fill them with candy and nuts.

A typical Norwegian Christmas meal includes "pinnekjott" - a rib of lamb which has been salted and dried and is sometimes smoked. It is frequently served with sausages, mashed turnip or rutabaga, boiled potatoes, mustard and a cold Christmas beer.

As with other Scandinavian countries, the Norwegians giver of gifts is called the "Nisse." The Nisse, which is an elf (or gnome) usually dresses in gray and likes to play little tricks.

The children leave porridge about so that the Nisse will find favor with them and will bring them fine gifts.

Swedish Christmas Traditions:

In Sweden, the Christmas season begins with St. Lucia Day on the 13th of December and continues through to the end of Christmas Day.

St. Lucia Day (aka the Swedish Festival of Lights) starts first thing in the morning. The eldest daughter in the household dresses in a beautiful white dress and wears a crown adorned with candles.

She serves saffron rolls, ginger biscuits and coffee on a tray to her family and sings the traditional Lucia carols.

The Swedish Christmas dinner is served on Christmas Eve and frequently includes a smorgasbord of meats such as pork, ham, sausage, meatballs and all sorts of herring. Sweets include cakes, pies and pepparkakor, which are Swedish ginger cookies.

Christmas day marks the beginning of a period of rest as most Swedes have another one to two weeks off work. Gatherings and celebrations continue during this resting period and the Christmas tree is normally left up for about three weeks after Christmas.

While each of the Scandinavian countries has its own unique traditions, one thing remains the same... It's a joyous time filled with light, love and the giving of gifts.
About the Author
Holly Hallberg studied French and Art History at the Sorbonne and graduated from the American University of Paris. As a lover of modern Scandinavian design and architecture, Holly travels each year to find new Scandinavian Designers and the products they create. For modern Scandinavian design objects, furniture, clothing and toys, visit her online store at:
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