Sweden might be one of the world’s most modern nations, but Swedes love their traditions and food tends to be the most important element of Swedish festivities. Here in Skåne we share the same traditions as the rest of the country, but we also have a few additional traditions.
New Year is celebrated in Sweden on the night between 31 December and 1 January. New Year celebrations involve partying and fun, and many people get into the spirit by drinking sparkling wine and setting off fireworks.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated on 14 February, and is a commercial tradition that is growing in popularity. People normally give a card, a flower or some other trinket to a loved one.
Shrove Tuesday falls between 3 February and 9 March, and is the Tuesday after Quinquagesima. It is the last day before Lent, and it is traditionally on this day – and on this day only – that semla buns are eaten, also known as Lent buns or Shrove Tuesday buns.
This is always celebrated on 25 March. The original name for this day, a holiday, was Lady Day. In recent years, this has been changed in popular parlance to Waffle Day, since the two names sound very similar in Swedish. Consequently, waffles are traditionally eaten on this day.
A moveable feast, falling between 22 March and 25 April. Easter is all about sweets, sweets and more sweets. And, of course, a lunchtime buffet. Lunch consists of boiled eggs, pickled herrings and dill-cured salmon, while the evening Easter dinner usually consists of grilled lamb and asparagus. Children receive Easter eggs filled with sweets, and dress up as Easter witches before knocking on their neighbour’s doors.
Celebrated on 30 April. Historically, a bonfire was lit to ward off evil spirits. These days, however, it tends to be a festive way of burning garden waste. You can expect to see plenty of Swedish flags, as King Carl XVI Gustaf celebrates his birthday on Walpurgis.
The first of May – May Day – has been celebrated by the labour movement since 1890, with demonstrations and speeches around the country. Originally, the aim of these demonstrations was to campaign for an eight-hour working day. In Sweden, May Day became a public holiday in 1939 – long after the eight-hour working day had been introduced.
Midsummer is celebrated on the Friday during the period 19-25 June. It is traditionally celebrated by erecting a maypole and dancing around it, while singing well-known songs. A garland of flowers is often worn in the hair, and according to folklore your future spouse will appear in your dreams if you pick seven different types of flowers and place them under your pillow on Midsummer Eve. Pickled herrings with potatoes, sour cream and chives, herring tart and strawberries with cream are traditionally eaten.
These are held in August and September. The crayfish party is said to be the most Swedish of all Swedish traditions, and involves eating while wearing colourful paper hats and bibs, and hanging coloured paper lanterns above the table. Schnapps is an important part of a crayfish party, and is rarely drunk without singing an accompanying drinking song.
Many eel fishers organise eel parties between mid-August and the end of November. An eel party is a Skåne celebration that involves eating various eel dishes. A true eel party consists of at least four types of eel, such as eel soup, smoked eel, fried eel, boiled eel and straw-smoked eel, all washed down with home-made spiced schnapps. Eel parties have been designated a World Class Event, and are visited by around fifty different nationalities every year.
All Saints is celebrated on the first Saturday between 31 October and 6 November. For most people, this is a time to remember departed loved ones. Graves are decorated, and candle-lit lanterns flicker in all Swedish churchyards. In recent years the festival has become associated with Halloween, when children dress up and go trick or treating.
St Martin’s Day
The reason why St. Martin’s Day is celebrated on 10 November and not 11 November is that Swedes have a preference for celebrating on the evening before a holiday. A classic goose dinner begins with goose blood soup, followed by roasted goose, with apple cake for dessert.
Advent is the period between the fourth Sunday before Christmas up until Christmas Eve, and marks the beginning of the ecclesiastical year. This is one of many preparations leading up to Christmas, and electric Advent candles are traditionally placed in the windows with one candle being lit every Sunday until Christmas. Advent stars and Advent candles are placed in the window on the first day of Advent. Advent calendars are made or bought for children. Advent also involves counting down to Christmas Eve: buying Christmas presents, putting up decorations, serving Christmas buffets, hunting for presents, drinking mulled wine, Christmas parties and other festivities.
For a truly enchanting experience, you should visit Sweden on 13 December when the 400-year-old tradition of St Lucia is celebrated with church concerts and processions. On this day, you will see many young girls dressed in flowing white dresses, each carrying a candle and wearing a wreath in her hair. Lucia processions make their way solemnly through the towns and churches, singing beautiful Lucia songs. The boys dress as gingerbread biscuits, brownies and star boys. Saffron buns and mulled wine are the order of the day.
Christmas officially begins on Christmas Eve, 24 December. Here in Sweden, festive traditions include Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, advent candles, Lucia, presents, seasonal rhymes, Christmas carols, Advent calendars, Santa Claus, Christmas cards and, of course, Christmas food and sweets. Christmas preparations begin early, and are an important part of the celebrations. Christmas shopping traditionally begins on Shop Window Sunday, and Advent calendars and Advent candles then count down the days until Christmas Eve. The celebrations begin on Christmas Eve, perhaps by eating rice pudding, decorating the Christmas tree and preparing food for the main Christmas meal. Santa Claus comes in the afternoon or evening, and the family then eats the many dishes set out on the festive table. Donald Duck is shown on TV at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and this is a big tradition for many Swedes. Many go to midnight mass or Christmas morning services, even if they don’t usually go to church. The Christmas buffet consists of a Christmas ham, sausages, meatballs, spare ribs, herrings, brawn and bread to dip in the stock from the ham. Mulled wine is also drunk on the evening of Christmas Eve. The rest of Christmas is normally spent visiting relatives and eating. Above all, Christmas is a family time.