Tag Archives: Swedish traditions


Valborg (Walpurgis) is celebrated throughout Sweden yet in varying forms. To me Valborg is a celebration of springtime. I also associate it with University students; Chalmers, Lund, Uppsala and their own special festivities. Many a choir is welcoming the spring by singing spring songs. In many parts of Sweden large bonfires play a big role on Valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Night).

Read more about Valborg (Walpurgis) and the Swedish traditions here – in Swedish

Watch and listen to Håkan Hellström’s beautiful song Valborg.



Lucia – behind the scenes



You have probably heard of Lucia; the Queen of Light who brightens the dark morning of December 13 in Sweden. Even if the 13th this year coincides with a Friday, “dark” refers only to the lack of light.

In short the Lucia tradition consists of a procession with a Lucia up front, followed by handmaidens (tärnor), star boys (stjärngossar), brownies and elves (pepparkaksgubbar och tomtenissar). All but the brownies and elves wear white gowns. Lucia wears a light crown/wreath whereas the handmaidens each carry a candle. Lights are normally battery operated. There is beautiful singing. Either it really is, or you are a parent. These Lucia processions can be enjoyed at every preschool and school, and sometimes even at workplaces. Most towns have an official Lucia procession visiting hospitals and elderly, malls and libraries. There is also a national broadcast.

Lucia behind the scenes

Being an “outsider” to this enchanting Swedish tradition, what you may not have heard of are the small battles leading up to this event.

    • There is only supposed to be ONE Lucia in the procession. During the early years of school exceptions may be allowed but sooner or later the process of electing only ONE Lucia is introduced. How unfair. At least these days not only girls with long blond hair are chosen. Sweden wants to pride itself for diversity, but when it comes to boys being Lucia you can tell that traditions are not so easily rocked.


    • Teachers struggle to persuade at least SOMEONE to be a star boy (stjärngosse). There are traditional songs to be sung about the star boy Staffan so at least one is a must. This category does not seem to be popular any more. Because of the cone shaped paper hat? The annoying elastic ribbon – making sure it stays during the procession – does not exactly help.


        • Red ribbon or glitter for handmaidens (tärnor)? Lucia wears a red ribbon around her waist. Handmaidens, if anything around the waist, are meant to wear glitter – same as in their hair. Opinions seem to differ though, and the discussion is to be continued. Somehow official handmaidens tend to break the rules more often. You can also catch them wearing lingonberry sprigs instead of glitter. Not around the waist though.


          • Batteries for handheld lights and wreath run out last minute. Does not matter how many times you checked and exchanged them for new ones. Murphy’s law.


            • “Tärnljus” (the handheld lights of the handmaidens) resemble something out of Star Wars, and are hence used for light sword fights while kids are getting ready to enter the stage. How many lights will be broken this year? Easy to spot the guilty ones in the procession.


              • Ironing long white gowns last minute. Not only must we find last year’s, try them on, buy new ones and hand the old ones down. Did you know how long it took me to iron the one I wore at 8 months of pregnancy? Yes, I was an expat at the time – you know it; homeland traditions tend to become very important once you are not actually living in your passport country. Actually, it was peer pressure. I don’t personally partake in Lucia processions in Sweden. It is for children and teens unless you are a member of a choir.


                • Oh the decision of which of the children’s Lucia procession you need to opt out of since they tend to be held at the same time. This year all “our” teachers were being pro-active enough not to schedule the celebrations on the actual date itself. Since they all had the same idea it failed


                • When all is settled (well, as good as it gets) you still miss most of it since there aren’t really any chances of clear visibility of the procession and your little ones. Grandparents, relatives and friends who have managed to arrive an hour earlier (since they were not on ironing or baking duty) make sure of that. If you are lucky you might catch a glimpse or two though on one of the iphone screens held up in the air.


            • Not to mention when real candles are used. Hair burning, candles needing to be relit – you get it.

What can I say; I love traditions. I am so glad that we have Lucia!

Now I just need to schedule the baking of the saffron buns I was appointed to do for 80 parents, grandparents and kids celebrating in one of my children’s classes. Right; the celebration which I will only attend for a short while – remember the double booking?

Want to learn more?

Another Lucia battle – comedian Robert Gustafsson

The Lucia song “Sankta Lucia”

Lucia for Dummies

More words to learn:

ett luciatåg – a Lucia procession

ett tåg – a train; a procession; a rope

ett luciafirande – a Lucia celebration

att fira – to celebrate; to lower

lusse – slang for Lucia

en lussebulle = en saffransbulle – a saffron bun

att lussa – to walk in a Lucia procession, singing and spreading the joy of Lucia to people




Gingerbread Day

Gingerbread Day

December 9 is apparently Gingerbread Day in Sweden. As I’ve said before – keeping track of all days in Sweden dedicated to Swedish pastries, cakes and cookies is probably a full time job. At least if you’re supposed to keep up with the baking yourself. Luckily there are bakeries and supermarkets more than eager to profit from these appointed days. In fact, they are part of the industry coming up with the days in the first place.

Well, I must say I thought all days in December were Gingerbread Days. At least when it comes to eating them.


essential vocabulary of the day:

en pepparkaka – a gingerbread biscuit

med kristyr – with icing (icing that hardens)

utan – without

even more essential:

många pepparkakor – lots of gingerbread biscuits

mums – yum, yummy



Photo shows result from multicultural gingerbread project last year. Kids and moms in my international network had fun while decorating for local exhibition at the library.






Midsummer – what’s it all about?


Midsummer in Sweden or elsewhere, or just interested in learning what it is all about?

Flowers in your hair – as a crown -, Swedish smörgåsbord when it comes to food or just the herring and new potatoes. Midsummer pole and traditional dancing, picking wildflowers and … rain. All is Midsummer.

I found an article in New York Times very well describing a Midsummer Day’s Dream. Read it here!


Egg-citing hunt

Easter and Saturday. Snow in the air and a cold, rather uninviting yard. But that does not stop our tradition of egg hunting. Our plastic eggs from expat time in Michigan have served us well and still do. We also hide the larger Swedish eggs filled with candy – my favorite is marcipane eggs with a thin chocolate layer and a pastel colored crust.

In the morning I boil the breakfast eggs with some yellow onion peel to make them yellow. We also paint some eggs for lunch using food coloring pens. Real messy but a must.

Lamb is a favorite for lunch/dinner!


What are your traditions for Easter?


Easter witches


Last year I remember we had a very vivid discussion in my expat network about the Swedish tradition of dressing up as an Easter witch. People were appalled by the thought of it; seeing Easter witches as something dark and scary. It can be hard to understand and accept other culture’s traditions and it can be equally hard for a person familiar to them to get why they can be provoking or upsetting. We are usually so caught up with and used to the traditions (hence the word) that we don’t really think about the whys and hows and what it can possible look like to an outsider.

I tried to explain that the Easter dressing up is like Halloween – kids knock on doors, sometimes leaving a homemade Easter card and hope for candy in return. But we all have different references to witches (come on, we do!) and it wasn’t until I googled pictures of cute little Easter witches that we all agreed that it wasn’t such a bad thing after all! Boys and girls dress up in long colorful skirts and headscarves (the most important attribute) and red colored cheeks and lots of freckles. Lately we also see little Easter Men and Bunnies.

The word “påskkärring” actually does not even mean Easter witch but rather “Easter Old Woman”. There is very little in common with the witches people believed in during the 17th Century – also people did not drink coffee in Sweden at the time, and a dressed up kid usually carries a coffee pot around accompanying the broomstick; sometimes even a black cat.

So, when can you expect them to arrive – the kids, not the witches? On the West coast of Sweden it is mostly common to be visited by påskkärringar during Easter Saturday, whereas Thursday is more common in the rest of the country.

Fika the Swedish way

Fika is the Swedish soul.

Fika is coffee/tea/juice/whatever-except-alcohol.

Fika is our daily excuse to savor cinnamon rolls/pastry/cake/cookies.

Fika is a daily routine at our work places. Twice a day actually.

Fika is when Swedes are not taciturn.

Fika is #fika on twitter.

Fika is at home. At the office, at a café.

Fika is at the playground, in a park and in our gardens.

Fika is for business and pleasure.

Fika can be just a cuppa.

Fika is always right.


Fredagsmys for non-Swedes

Say the word Fredagsmys and every Swede knows what you are talking about. An easy Friday evening get-together, to mark the end of the work/school week and the beginning of the weekend. Family or friends, easy cooking, snack and a TV-screen are ususally involved. Tacos is a classic, as well as chips/crisps and dip; at least that´s what the commercials want us to believe. Fredagsmys is part of our modern culture, probably substituting the Sunday dinner family gathering.

The reality TV-show “Allt för Sverige”, brings “Swedish” Americans to Sweden for a chance to discover their roots. One of the episodes exposed the group to Fredagsmys.  http://bit.ly/YizCDAI

Midsummer & its important ingredients


Midsummer is important to Swedish people, of all ages. There are lots of links to articles and YouTube clips on social media explaining the tradition. The other day I asked a group of people what is important to them on Midsummer. The group consisted of expats in Sweden (having been here for a long time), Swedes that have been living abroad and  … just Swedes. There was no difference between the answers of the Swedes and the expats, but as expected the now repatriated Swedes seemed to have celebrated more when abroad, and especially if they had children at the time.

Flower wreaths (for hair), may pole, dancing, sunny weather, picking flowers for decoration, food

White dresses, floral prints dresses, rain gear

Spending time with friends, going to a traditional may pole celebration, lottery, outdoor games (i.e. spoonrace with egg or potatoes)

Strawberries, egg, herring, barbecue, new potatoes, gräddfil (sourcream), fika

These things were also important when living outside Sweden: brännvinsost (type of cheese), prinskorv (small sausages), dillchips, estrella dip sauces, meatballs, arranging a bigger get together with other Swedish people.

No one mentioned schnapps or beer, or singing at the table, but this of course, is part of it too! As is setting the table up outside, having to carry it inside when the rain showers appear, and then outside again …

What else is important?

I shall ask @Sweden for help with input.