Scandinavian Christmas Guide: How to Celebrate Christmas Like a Scandinavian

December 19, 2016 24 Comments

Glædelig Jul! 🙂 You may know by now that I’m pretty obsessed with Scandinavia. 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 Scandiavian 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!)

Scandinavian Christmas Guide: How to Celebrate Christmas Like a Scandinavian

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.

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

The kids were so cute!

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

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. You can read more on the Yule Lads website.

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. There are lots of different ways to have a hyggelig time, and you can read more about it here. 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!). 

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!

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

There were so many different decorations to choose from, and I had to resist buying them all!

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

I actually found these sparkly gold decorations at Walmart!

Scandinavian Christmas guide

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

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

My Viking ship ornament! 🙂 (And you can see the red and white heart garland around the tree)

Scandinavian Christmas guide

I got a few of these little straw ornaments at the museum, and they’re only a dollar each

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

I actually got this tree angel during my recent trip to Mexico!

Scandinavian Christmas food

Food is also very important during Scandinavian Christmas celebrations, and there are a ton of different dishes you can make. Last weekend I had some friends over, and I bought 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 made a few different cookies, frikadellers (Danish pork meatballs), and Danish caramelized potatoes, and I’m excited to try to make some more dishes soon! And I do have a picture of some other Scandinavian dishes that Matt and I made recently on my November post. 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. 

Scandinavian Christmas Guide

The Scandi Kitchen: Simple, Delicious Dishes for Any Occasion

Scandinavian Christmas Guide

Scandinavian Christmas
Scandinavian Christmas Guide

Scandinavian Gatherings: From Afternoon Fika to Midsummer Feast

Scandinavian Christmas Guide

Scandinavian Baking: Sweet and Savory Cakes and Bakes, for Bright Days and Cozy Nights

Scandinavian Christmas Guide

How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life
Scandinavian Christmas Guide

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!

Scandinavian Christmas Guide

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. 

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Danish butter cookies and Swedish thins

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Hallongrottor (raspberry grottoes), my favorites!

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Nordic rye crackers

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Pebber nodder, a Danish spice cookie with cardamom and cinnamon

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Frikadellers, my favorite!

Scandinavian Christmas guide

This glögg is non-alcoholic, and you can add dark rum

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

Scandinavian Christmas guide

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? 🙂 

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24 Comments

  1. Reply

    Stephanie

    December 19, 2016

    I love your decor! That Christmas market looks so lovely, too.

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 19, 2016

      Thank you! 🙂 Yes, I love Christmas markets!

  2. Reply

    Lena Elzayn

    December 19, 2016

    This is such a fun and festive post! Loving your decorations so much!

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 19, 2016

      Thank you! 🙂

  3. Reply

    Amanda

    December 19, 2016

    It was so interesting reading about your christmas traditions! I actually live in Sweden. So you don’t have any “nisse” in USA/outside of Sweden? Is Santa Claus all alone then? I barely know anything about christmas traditions outside of Sweden, haha!

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 19, 2016

      No nisse, for us, Santa has elves that help make the toys in the North Pole, but he’s the only one that gives them out on Christmas. What traditions for Sweden did I miss? I love learning about traditions in other countries! 🙂

  4. Reply

    Robin

    December 19, 2016

    I love this post! Scandinavia is my latest obsession (along with the rest of the world, it seems) and I NEED to buy some of those cookbooks & some Scandinavian Christmas ornaments ASAP! Also – which Icelandic beer were you drinking? My husband & I (in MA) are so obsessed with Einstök that when we were in PA for Thanksgiving, we bought 10 6-packs of it because they don’t sell it in New England ?

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 19, 2016

      I want some more cookbooks, too! I got a pale ale and the Christmas beer (I can’t remember what it was called), and the glogg was also really good! Also where in PA did you go for Thanksgiving?? If you’re every in Philly, let me know! 🙂

  5. Reply

    Sheena

    December 19, 2016

    Great post! I’d love to get to Scandinavia one day! All the Christmas decorations and the tree looked so whimsy!

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 20, 2016

      Thank you! 🙂 Scandinavia is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance!

  6. Reply

    Luci {Luci's Morsels}

    December 21, 2016

    I love learning about Christmas traditions in other cultures! The Scandinavian countries in particular know how to create delicious warm drinks and fancy cookies with delightful jammy fillings!

    Luci’s Morsels | fashion. food. frivolity.

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 21, 2016

      Yes I love their food and drinks! 🙂 I wish they were easier to get in the U.S.!

  7. Reply

    Alyssa

    December 21, 2016

    so many fun traditions! and i adore those short stocky santas with no eyes ?

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 21, 2016

      Thank you!! 🙂

  8. Reply

    Alex Cote

    December 23, 2016

    So, I’m from Minnesota, and as I was reading this and going through the pictures it literally reminds me of every tradition and Christmas party I’ve been to here. There’s actually a lot of people from Scandinavia here, and I always see these decorations and Christmas treats around the state! You should visit sometime, I’m sure you’d love it! 🙂

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 24, 2016

      Yes, I really want to visit Minnesota! I would love to live there, too!

  9. Reply

    Marcie

    December 24, 2016

    OMG! You had me at Kirsten from American Girl! That’s when I learned about St. Lucia’s Day, too! We have an IKEA right by our house, so we usually head there to stock up on lingonberry sauce for our swedish pancakes. Your photos are stunning!

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 24, 2016

      Thank you! 🙂 I haven’t tried the lingonberry sauce yet, but I really want to!

  10. Reply

    Rebecca

    December 25, 2016

    I’ve never tried any of these things! Sounds so much fun. Your photos are beautiful.

    Rebecca

    http://Www.londontoeverywhere.com

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 25, 2016

      Thank you! 🙂

  11. Reply

    Ashley B.

    December 25, 2016

    Everything looks so lovely! And hygge sounds like an awesome time 🙂 I’d do it all winter.

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 25, 2016

      Thank you! Yeah, it’s really nice!

  12. Reply

    Laura @ Our Next Adventure

    December 26, 2016

    Loving all your Scandinavian decor! I’ve never heard the term ‘hygge’, but I’m thinking I need that book so I can learn to do it properly ?…we love to button up the house and get cozy during the winter!

    • Reply

      Julia

      December 27, 2016

      Thank you! 🙂 Yes, hygge is a lot of fun!

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