Holidays and traditions Archives - Moz Sweden

Category: Holidays and traditions

The traditional Christmas tree


The traditional Christmas tree

History of the Christmas tree

The tradition of having a pine tree indoors comes from Germany and Switzerland somewhere between the 1500-1600’s. It was first and foremost a decoration for the high society – such as rich and noble people – and often decorated with candy. From the late 1600’s it was spread to France, Belgium and Holland, but didn’t reach Swedish homes until the 1800’s.

Although; we do know that the very first Christmas tree in Sweden appeared in the home of the wealthy family Wrede-Sparre in 1741, who lived on Södermalm – one of the islands of Stockholm. But the tradition didn’t spread to every home until the late 1800’s. So we could say that the Wrede-Sparre-family was super modern for their time!

In the 1700- and 1800’s the Swedish decoration of the tree was quite similar to the traditional decoration we have today. The tree would have live candles, apples and (if you’re lucky) candy hanging from the branches. In the end of the 1800’s it was common to buy Christmas tree decorations in small stores, such as garlands of the Swedish flag, paper crackers and decorative red hearts to hang in the tree.

Woman decorates a Christmas tree with Swedish flags
  • Woman by Christmas tree
  • Girl talking to Santa
  • Woman sitting by Christmas tree

The vikings and the Christmas tree

The word ”Christmas’ ‘originates from Christ, another name for Jesus, and many countries refer to Christmas as the birth of Jesus according to the Christian religion. But in Swedish, the word for Christmas is ”jul”, and has its origin way back to the roots of the Vikings.

The Viking celebrated the holiday ”Yule” as the midwinter occurred. It was a way to acknowledge that the darkest time of the year was over and they were heading towards lighter and warmer times. The Christmas tree – or the plain pine tree – was a big symbol for these dark and cold times since it was the only green tree in the forest. It symbolized continuous life and life force, as every other tree dropped its leaves during autumn.

Legends say that trees were highly respected and honored in Viking culture, and it was common to decorate pine trees outside and wear wreaths made of pine tree branches.

Man puts a star in top of the Christmas tree

How to decorate a Christmas tree

Traditions sure change, and today there are no rules on how to decorate a Christmas tree. During the early 1900’s the Christmas tree was decorated in the color red – today, every family has its own tradition.

Here are some decoration tips if you want a Christmas tree of your own:

  • Christmas balls are a given. You can find them in almost every store in Sweden, and the colors vary. The traditional colors though are red, silver and gold, and the balls are made of either plastic or glass.
  • Glitter garlands can be found in either silver or gold, but white glitter garlands are also quite common. You can either let the garlands run around the tree, or have them running from the top down to the bottom.
  • Electric lights really spruce up the tree and make it shine beautifully when darkness sets. Today it’s just as much of a tradition to have big electric candles that resemble real candles, as it is to have small light dots.
  • If you want a touch of the olden days, you can make some decorations by yourself using extra strong paper and scissors. There’s so much inspiration to be found if you search for ”DIY Christmas tree decorations”, and it’s a fun way to spend time with family and kids.
  • Don’t forget that a Christmas tree is just like a flower: it needs plenty of water to not go brown and die. All tree stands can contain water, and make sure it’s always full for the tree not to dry out.

It’s common to see different color matches in today’s Christmas trees. An all red tree – where every single piece is red – is very powerful and popular. Another modern trend is to look past the red and try other things that still feel ”Christmasy” – one example is green and gold, where the golden touch can be found in straw-decorations and fabric, while the green can be moss-decorations, plants and tree decorations. Gold and green resembles the forest and the colors within, while an all white and silver decorated tree resembles the snow and winter landscape. White and silver sure are colors of the Nordic: both in home styling and in nature. To bring nature inside is popular, and white Christmas decorations – all the way from the tree to the pillows and fabric – is also a very popular and modern trend.

But, to summon up: there are no rules. Decorate the tree the way you feel like, and after your own preference. The big thing is to find the Christmas spirit and have a lovely time together with family, while finishing your Christmas tree.

Celebrating Christmas in Sweden


Celebrating Christmas in Sweden

Every country has its own way to celebrate Christmas, and Sweden is no exception. And even though every family has their own traditions, some things are exactly the same in almost every household on the 24th of December.

The Christmas food buffet

The Christmas food buffet can almost be described as a museum of Swedish culinary history. The traditional buffet is filled with foods and dishes only eaten on Christmas. Some culinary historians mean that the Christmas buffet is a way to keep connected to our past and our ancestors: things that young people eat today could be the same thing and the same recipe that family members ate hundreds of years ago.

The oldest food on the buffet today is ”lutfisk”. Lutfisk is a dried fish, bleached in birch ashes until white, hard and thin. In order to eat it, the fish must be soaked in clear water for a week. It’s eaten with green peas, butter and white hollandaise sauce. The old recipes though, dated back as far as to the 1400’s, also include almonds and raisins.

Fat med julmat

Today’s classics

One of the most popular dishes today is the Christmas ham. It was introduced in the end of the 1800’s, and is traditionally covered with a crispy mustard crust. It’s eaten chilled, sliced into thin pieces, together with a strong Swedish mustard on the side.Another mandatory part of the buffet is pickled herring and salmon. The pickled herring can vary in many different flavors, and the salmon is served either warm smoked, cold smoked or rimmed.

Julskinka på fat
Minnesvärda stunder, Couople hugging, Swedish sayings. Minnesvärda stunder, Couople hugging, Swedish sayings.

Kalle Anka – Donald Duck and his friends

It’s said that Sweden has two collective times in a year: the bell for New Years Eve – and the time for Kalle Anka on TV. Every Christmas Eve at 15:00, the public channel airs a Christmas show called ”Kalle och hans vänner”. It’s a cartoon show – same every year – showing small stories of Donald Duck and his friends, old Disney classics and some new glimpses of modern films. The show has been aired since the 60’s in Sweden and brings everyone together – no matter how old you are!

Man och kvinna tittar på TV
  • Girl in red dress hugging Moz
  • Wrapping of Christmas presents
  • Granddaughter, daughter and grandmother with Moz
  • Baking gingerbread Moz

Santa Claus and presents

Every child awaits the evening. That’s when Santa Claus – or ”tomten” in Swedish – arrives in the dark to deliver presents. The classic tomte has red clothing, a big white beard, a top hat and big black boots. He’s big and round, and speaks with a dark (but kind) voice and brings the presents in a big fabric bag.

Tomten is often played by someone in the family – maybe a dad or a grandad, but a mother dressed up with pillows for roundness is just as perfect! The traditional get-away-phrase is ”I need to go and get the newspaper”, which would be a legit reason for accidentally disappearing when Tomten arrives. 

When Tomten enters the room he asks ”Finns det några snälla barn här?” which means ”Are there any kind children here?”. The phrase refers to the fact that you only get presents if you’ve been kind throughout the year. Maybe the same should go for adults?

Tomte delar ut julklappar till två flickor

Making your own traditions

One beautiful thing about Christmas is about making your own traditions. Every family has their own little things they love – some eat before Kalle Anka, some eat after. Some open a few presents in the morning, and others wait until late in the evening. Some have a very special herring recipe or eggnog drink, while others can’t have Christmas without a crackling fire.
That’s one of the most important things about Swedish Christmas today: sticking to the things you love, and making up your own traditions as celebration goes on – year after year.

Mamma och barn öppnar julklappar i sängen

Creating a flower wreath


Creating a flower wreath

Not only the maypole is decorated with flower wreaths – it’s also a traditional head piece that you can make yourself.

Loved tradition

Hundreds of years ago, the flower wreath was an easy way to dress up – even for a wedding. The beautiful flowers were free and blossoming during summer, and if you couldn’t afford a bridal crown, one made of flowers was a good choice. The wreaths were also great ways to preserve the magic of summer, and keep it all the way into cold winter times. It was said to bring good luck if you put the dried Midsummer flowers in your yearly Christmas bath.

Today, the flower wreath is a loved tradition amongst both children, older people, men and women. They were traditionally worn by women, but anyone can wear one today.

Woman with flower wreath, sitting on a swing

How to make your own flower wreath

There are no rules when making a wreath. Some people prefer to use only green leaves, some wish to mix it with flowers, and others want purely flowers in their wreath. Let your imagination set the standards, and choose whatever you think looks great.

There are several ways to make a wreath, and an easy one is to create a round base of strong wire, on which you attach the flowers. Here’s the list of things you will need:

  • strong/thick wire for the round base
  • thin wire to attach flowers
  • flowers and greens of different sorts – make sure the shafts of the flowers aren’t too short
  • a fabric or satin band (optional)
Woman making a wreath of midsummer flowers

Step by step

  1. Create a circle of the thick wire, and adjust it to the size of your head. This will be the base of the whole wreath.
  2. Attach the thin wire to the base, and start adding flowers.
  3. Attach one flower at a time by twining the thin wire around the shaft. Alternate flowers and greens and keep twining the wire to attach everything
  4. When the whole base is covered with flowers, end the twining and hide the thin wire.
  5. You can preferably decorate the wreath with the satin band and end it with a bow.

One last tip: don’t be afraid to experiment or let the wreath become big, proud or exciting. Nothing is wrong when it comes to midsummer flowers and wreaths. Let your imagination flow, and enjoy the flower crown you’ve created.

Woman teaches girl how to make a wreath
Illustration, Moz with flowers Illustration, Moz with flowers

Midsummer’s eve


Midsummer’s eve

Midsummer is a Swedish summer tradition that’s been celebrated for hundreds of years. This is the time of year when the sun never really sets, and the magic of never-ending summer nights are welcomed with a flower decorated maypole, dancing, singing, typical summer food, friends and family.

The maypole

The old name for the Swedish maypole is ”majstång”, but does not refer to the month of May (”maj” in Swedish). The Swedish word ”maj” is actually an old word that means ”to leaf something” – or, in more modern terms: to decorate something.

Quite suitable, since the maypole today is richly decorated with leaves and topped off with two large flower wreaths, formed as a big cross-like statue of wooden poles. Songs and dances are held around it, and it doesn’t matter how many – or few – people there are to celebrate: the dancing will take place, no matter what! So what do we sing about? Well – jumping frogs, laundry day, and the famous fox sneaking around an iced lake… of course with matching dances.

People dancing around a may pole

The magic of the Midsummer night

The night of Midsummer’s eve is magical. Today, the magic lies in the fact that the sun never sets, enjoy the company of family and friends, maybe take a midnight swim and feel the silence of nature in the evening.

However, hundreds of years ago, this magical night was something else: it was a way for farmers to wish for rich crops and a good harvest. Young girls would pick flowers in silence, in the hopes of dreaming of their future husbands – and if you were to roll around in the dewy meadow, you could significantly strengthen your health.

Some traditions still live to this day – such as picking flowers at night and dreaming of your future love. Although you believe in it or not, the traditions might live on just because it’s a wonderful way to enjoy the bright night.

Woman and girls picking flowers in a meadow

The holiday of friends and nubbe

If Christmas is a family holiday, Midsummer’s eve is more of a holiday for friends. We gather to eat sill – herring in different pickled variations – summer potatoes, sour cream with green onions and of course to drink nubbe. Nubbe – or ”snaps” – is a Swedish hard liquor, originally made from potatoes or grain, and is always served ice cold. Today there are many different variations in taste and seasoning: from a fresh hint of lemon and elderflower, to the bitter taste of wormwood. And since singing is a big part of the Midsummer celebration, you can’t drink a nubbe without a small song – or maybe an anecdote. After the song, you raise the small glass (snapsglas) and cheer ”SKÅL”. After that, the night never seems to end.

Midsummer celebration, eating and drinking

Swedish crayfish party – an August tradition


Swedish crayfish party – an August tradition

Crayfish is a delicacy in Sweden, and the fishing season starts in August and ends in September. That’s why Swedes celebrate the tradition of catching crayfish with a late summer party called ”kräftskiva”.

The history of kräftskiva

In Swedish, crayfish are called ”kräftor” – why the whole celebration is called ”kräftskiva”. Swedes have caught crayfish for many, many years, but it became regulated by the Swedish state in the 1920’s because of the fear that crayfish would run out in Swedish waters.

The regulation limited crayfish catching to the months of August and September, and quickly became a celebrated tradition when the season started. Still to this day it’s a beloved tradition, often celebrated with friends, great food and of course the thing Swedes do best: silly hats and weird songs.

Friends cheering at crayfish party.

Go crayfish hunting

Kräftskiva is a real food feast, where certain foods are mandatory. The crayfish are a must of course, and it’s even better if you’ve caught them yourself. It’s not hard to catch crayfish – all you need is an alarm clock, cages and some time.

Crayfish cages look like long cylinders, with a special entrance that prevents the crayfish from slipping out once they’re in. Load the cages with something really nice – fish heads for example – and tie a long string or small rope to the cages. Lower them into the sea or in a lake late at night, and make sure they rest on the seafloor. Tie the rope to a tree or something similar, so you’ll find the cages in the morning.

The longer you wait, the more crayfish you might catch – but don’t wait too long! If you leave the cages for too many days, the crayfish can start eating each other, or die and go bad. The best thing is to get up early the next morning (or maybe two mornings after) to collect the cages and your crayfish catch.

Oh, and one small warning: live crayfish are dark grey, or even black in color. So don’t be afraid you’ve caught the wrong kind – they go red once you cook them.

Wooden bucket and trap for crayfishing.

Decorate for kräftskiva

The decorations of a kräftskiva are quite special. No other holiday has this kind of decoration, and Swedes find nothing weird about it. Here are the must-haves for a proper decorated kräftskiva:

  1. A long table – the more people the merrier – with a nice table cloth
  2. Hanging garlands of colorful little flags
  3. Round, hanging lamps made of paper, with a picture of a smiling face
  4. More hanging decorations made of paper, in the shape of crayfish
  5. Bibs for adults – of course decorated with a crayfish
  6. Small party hats – decorated with what? Crayfish!

Additional decorations can be put on the table, and one such thing is the song book. Swedish snaps-culture demands that you sing a small song before drinking a snaps. They can be quirky, weird or even a bit vulgar, and the higher you sing, the better. A crayfish-party tradition is to take these small songs and rewrite the lyrics to whatever you want. It can be a fun way to sing about personal anecdotes or something else that brings you together.

Oh, and since you eat crayfish with your hands: don’t forget to load up on napkins!

Table decorated for crayfish party.

Picking 7 flowers for Midsummer


Picking 7 flowers for Midsummer

There’s an old tradition connected to Midsummer’s eve: if you pick 7 different flowers during the night and place them underneath your pillow, you will hopefully dream of your future love. Curious to try?

Midsummer was magical

Back in the days, the night of Midsummer was believed to be full of magic. Since the sun never went down, this was the brightest night of the year and thought to be one of the magical as well. The border between the human world and the supernatural went blurry, and nature was filled with magical creatures, sounds and wonders – and in order to seize this magic, many girls went out to pick flowers on the meadow, to hopefully dream of their future husband.

Woman and two girls picking flowers for midsummer
Midsommardröm, Midsummer dream, Swedish sayings Midsommardröm, Midsummer dream, Swedish sayings

Did it work

But why this night was thought to be full of magic is harder to get straight. Hundreds of years ago, the beliefs of creatures and magic were part of everyday life, and a way to explain unexplainable things. Today, we can turn to science to understand nature. Back then, we turned to magic and religion.

The biggest question is though: did it work? Hard to say – maybe it worked for some girls, if they happened to dream of the neighbor boy? But the best answer would be: try it for yourself. The tradition lives on, and there are plenty of flowers to pick during Midsummer. If not for the magic, it’s a lovely way to seize the Swedish Midnight sun.

Making a midsummer wreath

Follow the rules

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just picking seven flowers and placing them under your pillow. To really get in touch with the magic, there are several rules to follow if you want everything to work out. One rule is to make everything backwards as much as you can. Doing things in the wrong order, backwards or upside down was believed to ”shorten the way” into the magical world – simply because it was the opposite way of the normal Christian way of living. Another rule is to not break the magic by talking – silence is key!

A midsummer bouquet with flowers.

If you’re really eager

  1. The number of flowers must be uneven: three, seven or nine flowers.
  2. All flowers must be different! It’s way too easy to pick seven of the same flower.
  3. No talking from the start all the way to the pillow. Again: silence is key.
  4. Preferably you must jump over a gärdesgård – an old form of fence between meadows – between every picked flower. Easy math: seven flowers = jump over seven fences between each picked flower.
  5. To really get in touch with magic – do everything backwards. Walk backwards, jump backwards, and walk your planned route backwards.

 

But hey – what don’t you do for your future love?

Young couple embracing
Illustration, Moz with flowers Illustration, Moz with flowers