Glædelig Jul! 🙂 You may know by now that I’m pretty obsessed with Scandinavia after studying abroad in Denmark twice. I gave my dog a Scandinavian name, and this blog was first named after my Swedish backpack, just to give you some idea. So I was pretty excited when I heard the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia was having a Lucia Fest and Christmas market.
I know most people aren’t very familiar with Scandinavian Christmas traditions, so I thought I would compile a Scandinavian Christmas guide to go along with my photos! 🙂 (And I’m including photos of my apartment decked out with Scandinavian Christmas decorations!)
Saint Lucia Day
If you grew up with American Girl dolls, you might actually be familiar with Saint Lucia Day. Kirsten was from Sweden and her Christmas outfit was the traditional Saint Lucia outfit with a white dress and a crown of lingonberry branches with candles. Lucia is supposed to be the bearer of light in the dark winter, and it’s celebrated on Dec. 13th, which was the winter solstice on the Julian calendar. She also brings the traditional saffron buns, and you can learn more about the Lucia celebrations here.
The Lucia Fest at the American Swedish Historical Museum was a fun experience, and we got to learn Christmas songs in Swedish as little kids performed dances (the kids were pretty adorable). It got really crowded so if you go next year, I would definitely recommend getting there early! If you’re not near Philadelphia, don’t worry, there are Scandinavian Christmas parties and markets all over the U.S.
The kids were so cute!
Scandinavian Christmas traditions
There are also a lot of other interesting Scandinavian Christmas traditions, and one of my favorite unique ones is Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads. They’re similar to Santa Claus and one comes each night leading up to Christmas, and they each have a name and unique traits. But they’re not all cheery and nice like Santa; their mother is an evil troll called Grýla The Child Eater and the Yule Lads like to stir up mischief.
Sweden and Finland have a Yule Goat, who was like the original Santa Claus bearing gifts, and Santa is still called the Yule Goat (Joulupukki) in Finland. The most famous goat is erected in Gävle, Sweden every year, but arsonists tend to burn it down before Christmas.
On the topic of animals, Norway has a tradition of giving a marzipan pig to the person that finds the almond in the Christmas porridge (I’ll talk more about Christmas foods towards the end).
I got to learn about some Danish Christmas traditions while I was studying in Denmark, and there are so many that I love. One that I experienced a lot in Denmark was hygge. You may have heard of hygge (loosely translates to “coziness”), and while it’s more of a winter tradition than a Christmas tradition, you can still do it around Christmastime! Hygge is becoming more popular worldwide because it’s attributed with helping Denmark be the world’s happiest country, and it’s basically having a warm and “cozy” time during the dark, cold winters, typically done with a gathering of friends or families with candles or a warm fire.
For Christmas, Danes have a calendar candle with numbers 1-24 printed on it to burn each day as a countdown to Christmas, but I haven’t been able to find one in the U.S. yet. They also decorate with julehjerte, pleated hearts used as Christmas ornaments that were actually popularized by Hans Christian Andersen (I’ve made one before and they’re not as easy as you would think!).
Scandinavian Christmas decorations
I did find a julehjerte garland for my little tree at the American Swedish Historical Museum (I have a picture below), and I also loaded up on decorations at the Christmas market there and had a lot of fun putting them up around my apartment. You may have seen my scrawny little Charlie Brown Christmas tree on Instagram, and the ornaments definitely helped cheer up my little tree. Plus, I got a Viking ship ornament from the museum 🙂 There are tons of different kinds of decorations at the museum, so if you still need to decorate your house, you should check out their Christmas market for some unique decorations!
There were so many different decorations to choose from, and I had to resist buying them all!
I actually found these sparkly gold decorations at Walmart!
Depending on which Scandinavian country you’re in, this is called a nisse, tomte, tomtenisse, or tonttu, and it’s a small mythological creature like a gnome that comes around at Christmastime to give out presents like Santa Claus
My Viking ship ornament! 🙂 (And you can see the red and white heart garland around the tree)
I got a few of these little straw ornaments at the museum, and they’re only a dollar each
I actually got this tree angel during my recent trip to Mexico!
Scandinavian Christmas party food
Food is also very important during Scandinavian Christmas celebrations, and there are a ton of different dishes you can make. Every year, I have a Scandinavian Christmas party with my friends and make some Scandinavian dishes and cookies! I usually get some Danish cheese, Nordic rye crackers (I couldn’t find my beloved Danish rye bread), glögg (I got it from the museum), and Icelandic beer and then I make a few different cookies, frikadellers (Danish pork meatballs), and Danish caramelized potatoes, and purple cabbage. All of the recipes are pretty easy to make!I have some recipes on my Denmark Pinterest board, and I’ve included some books on Scandinavian culture and cookbooks if you’re interested in more recipes!
Fire and Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking
My older brother got this for me for Christmas last year, and I love it! It has delicious recipes and some stunning photographs of Scandinavia.
Nordicana: 100 Icons of Nordic Cool & Scandi Style
I have this book, and I love flipping through it to learn interesting facts about the Nordic culture!
This is how some of the dishes I made turned out (and they all tasted better than they looked), and I definitely want to make them all again! Most of the recipes came from the cookbooks I have and what I found on Pinterest, and all of them were great and pretty easy to make if you’re interested in trying any of them out.
Danish butter cookies and Swedish thins
Hallongrottor (raspberry grottoes), my favorites!
Nordic rye crackers
Pebber nodder, a Danish spice cookie with cardamom and cinnamon
Frikadellers, my favorite!
This glögg is non-alcoholic, and you can add dark rum
Einstok is Icelandic, and they have a beer for Christmas!
So there’s your Scandinavian Christmas guide so you can celebrate Christmas like a Scandinavian! Have you heard of any of these traditions or tried any of these foods before? 🙂