Swedish Advent

One of the most exciting and charming aspects of different cultures are the different traditions. The best part is that they are usually free to adopt! On Sunday the 1st of December Sweden celebrates 1st Day of Advent (första advent). This marks the beginning of the Christmas – unless you haven’t been able to avoid Christmas Markets already in November.

You probably know that it is common among Swedes to not pay many – or any – visits to church during the year.1st of Advent is however doubtless one of the most popular Sundays to attend the church, if any.

So what is Swedish Advent all about; beyond religion? Well, there is “fika” involved (surprised?). We might invite/be invited to friends and family to enjoy a cup of coffee, lussebullar (saffron bread) and ginger bread cookies. Not to mention a loaf of soft ginger bread and perhaps a few more cakes and cookies. “Glögg” (mulled wine) is also popular. You sip from small cups, often with almonds, hazel nuts and raisins floating on the ruby red, spicy surface. Glögg is made with various contents of alcohol as well as totally without (“saftglögg”). For advent we also bring out and decorate our special candle light holder; holding one candle for each of the Sundays in Advent. On the 1st of Advent we light the first candle and let it burn – not too long since it is supposed to last until 4th of Advent. On the 2nd of Advent we light not only the first but also the second candle. You get it. The candle light holder (“adventsljusstake”) is traditionally decorated with moss, mushrooms and sometimes lingonberry sprigs. I use walnuts in one of mine. I have been toying with the idea of decorating only with candy but have resisted the temptation so far.

Swedish Advent Candlestick holder


End of November and December are dark times in Sweden, literally speaking. We do what we can to brighten up the surroundings – also literally – by decorating gardens and balconies with garland-style lights; preferably in white; however colorful lights are not uncommon. Our windows are decorated with an Advent star; by tradition a hanging paper star but an Advent star standing on the window sill is increasingly popular. It has to fight over the space on the sill though, since this is normally the place for the electric seven armed candlestick (not to be confused with the menora) that not only decorate the windows of our homes but also the ones of our workplaces, as well as most official and commercial buildings.


Advent star

If 1st of Advent coincides with 1st of December another tradition also commences on this day; the Advent Calendar (“adventskalender” or “julkalender”). The most common calendar is made of thicker paper and holds 24 windows (“luckor”). On each day until Christmas (celebrated on the 24th of December in Sweden) children get to open one window to reveal a picture. The most popular calendar is probably the televised version; a story with a new episode on each day in December. You can buy the calendar in the grocery store. After you have watched the episode you open the window and find something related to what you just saw. Advent calendars also come with chocolate, toys (lego, playmobil etc.) or other surprises, in addition to different shapes, designs and materials. These days there are also calendars trying to break into a market of not only children. For instance there are Advent calendars with beauty products or lottery tickets.

Advent calendar
Advent calendar
This Advent Calendar I bought in the States. It is from Germany.

Oh, and windows must be washed for 1st of Advent. It is the busy season for window cleaners as well as for DIYers.

Garland christmas lights
Lights lights, everywhere.

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