A Swedish Christmas
Preload Spinner

A Swedish Christmas


A Swedish Christmas

By Kristina Phillips, Kristina Phillips Interior Design

Traditional Scandinavian Christmas goat

December is one of my favorite times of the year. It allows me to honor and celebrate my own Swedish heritage with the many traditions and decor this culture abides by during the Christmas season. In Sweden, it all begins four Sundays before Christmas and the beginning of Advent when a candle is lit to start the countdown. Often heirloom Advent sets are passed down, along with Swedish angel chimes that use the heat of candles to spin the carousel. 

On December 13th, we celebrate Lucia, a 400-year-old custom that commemorates the martyr Lucia of Syracuse. As legend has it, Lucia brought food to Christians hiding in Roman catacombs, lighting her way with a candle lit wreath on her head. When the fourth Advent candle is lit, Christmas Eve has finally arrived. Unlike in the States, Swedes open gifts on Christmas Eve, after Santa (Tompte) has dropped off his bundle and continues his way around the globe. 

Traditional swedish buns in christmas setting. A saffron bun, in Swedish lussebulle or lussekatt.

Swedish Christmas decor is centered on nature, along with plenty of candlelight and flowers. Christmas trees are dressed with ornaments made of balsa wood, straw snowflakes, felt angels, and the ever-important star tree topper. Julbocken – goats made of straw of various heights are often placed under the tree. My mother’s hometown is famous for its annual burning of the Gävle Goat by pranksters. Special Christmas linens, usually red and white, are brought out to dress the table. In every Swedish home, lamps are lit in windows, creating a beautiful glow as seen from the outside. I love to decorate my dining room with a Christmas tree dedicated to Swedish Tomptes and there’s nothing like a Swedish smorgasbord to bring family and friends together! 

There are many ways to decorate a Christmas tree, from over-the-top ornamentation to a minimalist organic ‘bare’ branch look. Swedes have a word – “lagom” – that defines much of their overall outlook. It is an expression for moderation or not too much, not too little. This way of thinking is carried through all aspects of life and holds true in getting homes ready for the holidays. Trees are often freshly cut and adorned with simple, naturally made ornaments such as straw stars, felted wool figurines, and paper cutouts or pieces made from carved balsa wood. Christmas tree skirts can be made from a rustic burlap to a chic buffalo check. 

I take great pride each year in celebrating Christmas in Swedish style! My children have come to love and appreciate all the traditions that I enjoyed as a child. And our friends delight in being invited to our home to partake in the festivities. 

In a world that moves so quickly and too often, and is used to moving “onto the next,” I love that December means a wonderful mix of good memories, traditions, and celebrating Christmas with those I love.  

Photo credit: Kristina Phillips

Want to learn about other holiday celebrations around the world? Read more at Johnerichome.com