A Year of Tradition in Sweden
Every season brings something new to celebrate
In Sweden we love the food, the fun and the festivities of our seasonal traditions. Each time of year brings something special to do or to celebrate. So whenever you come to visit you can be sure of enjoying a traditional and uniquely Swedish experience.
In Spring we celebrate Easter, but before Easter there is the “arrival” of semla, the traditional cream-filled, almond-flavored, cardamom-scented buns. Swedes have been gobbling up these sweet buns since the 16th century when they were served on Shrove Tuesday (Fettisdag in Swedish) as a last treat before the beginning of Lent. Now you’ll find them at bakeries all through the Lenten season—sometimes even earlier. Nothing tastes better with a cup of Swedish coffee!
Easter marks the first long weekend of spring and many people head to the country to celebrate. Birch branches, which symbolize Christ’s suffering, are part of traditional Swedish Easter decoration—only now you’ll often see them festively trimmed with colorful feathers.
On Walpurgis Eve, April 30, the night is bright with bonfires and the air is filled with the songs of university students celebrating the end of their school term. You’ll find the revels everywhere from big cities to small towns.
Sweden’s National Day is June 6. Look for the blue and yellow Swedish flag waving even more proudly around the country that day.
Midsummer celebrations in Sweden are world-famous and with good reason. After hunkering down through the long, dark winter, Swedes mark the longest day of the year with festivities all night long. The precise date for Midsummer Eve varies, but it’s always the Friday closest to June 21. Expect to see huge outdoor gatherings wherever you go, with Maypole dancing, singing and picnicking on the grass. Midsummer is also a favorite time for weddings.
The end of summer brings the start of crayfish season, and that’s a cause for celebration in itself. Crayfish parties, usually held outdoors illuminated by paper lanterns, are always good fun. If you’re invited to one at someone’s home, by all means go! Platters are piled high with the little crustaceans and everyone at the table digs in fingers first. The mess is part of the experience. Accompanying the feast? Bread and strong cheese, plus beer and schnapps.
Also messy, and very much an acquired taste is surströmming, the fermented “sour herring” that has become something of a gourmet delicacy (and a test of one’s constitution!) in recent years. Its history actually dates back to ancient hunters of northern Europe, who weren’t put off by the pungent smell of rotting fish. If you can get past the aroma, the taste is quite hearty and savory. Look for it in late August.
Halloween is a relatively new holiday in Sweden, however the observance of All Saints’ Day on November 1 dates back more than 1,000 years. The most beautiful part of this day of remembrance is the practice of lighting candles and lanterns at grave sites.
St. Martin’s Eve, November 10, was traditionally dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. Today, most people know it as an occasion for a festive goose dinner with family and friends, particularly in the Skåne region of southern Sweden. (The goose is the traditional symbol of St. Martin.)
And now we’ve reached the season, and the traditions, for which Sweden is best known. Yes, our winter nights are long, but they’re filled with warmth and good cheer.
The Feast of St. Lucia, December 13, is perhaps the most cherished of all Swedish traditions. A celebration of the “bearer of light in the darkness,” it is marked by stunning candlelit processions of girls in white gowns wearing wreaths of candles in their hair. These days the candles are battery-powered, but the atmosphere is the same—filled with an uplifting spirit of fellowship and joy.
Lucia traditionally marks the start of the Christmas season, and that brings with it all sorts of seasonal foods, from briny lutfisk to saffron-flavored lussekatter sweet rolls (so named because they resemble curled-up, sleeping cats) to the spicy, aromatic mulled wine known as glögg. The traditional Christmas dinner main dish is ham, surrounded by all sorts of sides, including herring (naturally!), potatoes, and dense, dark rye bread.
New Year’s Eve is generally spent with family and friends, but visitors won’t miss out on the fun. Keep your eyes on the skies and you’re bound to see a fireworks display welcoming the New Year with a bang.
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