Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

By December, Sweden has very few hours of daylight. The first Sunday of Advent comes as an eagerly awaited sign that Christmas is approaching. Time to light the candles, heat up the mulled wine, or glögg, and get into the Christmas mood.

Decorations keep the dark at bay

While the commercial decorations are there for a specific purpose, they also have a wider effect − they keep the dark at bay. Throughout the country, Swedes help by putting electrical candlesticks in their windows and arranging lights on a Christmas tree – or any other tree for that matter − in the garden.

In northern Sweden, where the midnight sun shines in the summer, the sun never rises above the horizon at this time of year. ‘It’ll soon turn’, Swedes tell one another when they meet. The midwinter solstice, on 21 December, is just round the corner, and the days will then begin to get lighter.

No Advent is complete without glögg and pepparkakor spreading the smells and flavours of Christmas.

Photo: Emelie Asplund/

Countdown to Christmas

On the first Sunday of Advent – four weeks before Christmas – people light the first candle in the Advent candlestick. This is always a special event, eagerly awaited. Each Sunday until Christmas, a candle is lit (and blown out after a while), until all four candles are alight.

The children’s expectations grow with every candle. On TV, there is a special Christmas calendar show for the young with 24 episodes. It, too, serves as a countdown to the big day.

In towns and cities, Christmas fairs selling handicrafts and decorations are a common sight, while at home people start baking in preparation for the holiday.

Glögg and ginger snaps

December is one of the most hectic months for Swedish families. The burden of work is always heavy at this time of year. There is much to be done in a short space of time before everyone can sit back and relax. For the children, meanwhile, December involves numerous end-of-term ceremonies, shows and activities.

The longed-for peace and quiet comes later, when all the preparations have been completed and Christmas can begin in earnest. On the first Sunday in Advent, many Swedes get together to drink glögg – a hot, spicy mulled wine with blanched almonds and raisins – and pepparkakor (ginger snaps) to accompany it.

Po Tidholm & Agneta Lilja

Po Tidholm is a freelance journalist and a critic based in the province of Hälsingland. In the collection 'Celebrating the Swedish Way', he has written the main sections about how we celebrate in Sweden today. ||| Agneta Lilja is a lecturer in ethnology at Södertörn University College, Stockholm. She also writes reviews and appears on radio and tv. In the collection 'Celebrating the Swedish Way', Lilja has written the sections about the history of Swedish traditions and festivities.