There are many wonderful Scandinavian Christmas traditions that make a visit to these Northern countries in December extra enjoyable.
While Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland may share some seasonal traditions, each country has their own individual beliefs and unique ways of celebrating the holidays. So with this being said, let’s get take a look at some of them!
St. Lucia Day
St. Lucia Day (December 13) is a festival of light that kicks the Christmas season into high gear. Traditionally, the celebration involves a girl wearing a white gown and a crown of candles leading a procession of candle-bearing women singing songs about the saint. You can see a St. Lucia procession in many Nordic countries – especially in big cities like Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen where there are often several celebrations happening.
While you’re taking in the St. Lucia festival, swing by a bakery and pick up some buns known as Lussebullar in Swedish and Lussekatt in Norwegian. These sweet buns with raisins are a traditional St. Lucia treat in Sweden and Norway. Saffron gives them a bright yellow hue, lending the grey northern winter a much-needed splash of colour.
Tomte (Swedish), Tonttu (Finnish) or Nisse (Norway)
In Scandinavian folklore, the tomte (to use its Swedish name) was a small creature similar to a gnome who occupied a homestead and helped its inhabitants—sort of like a helpful elf. It is believed that a clean and orderly home or farm is an indication that a domestic tomte spirit resides there. In modern times, he is often depicted as looking more like a little Santa Claus along with being a bearer of gifts. Children leave out a bowl of porridge for the tomte to thank him for his work throughout the year and receive gifts in return.
While the advent of the modern sauna has meant there are fewer traditional smoke saunas around Finland, the custom of smoking Christmas hams in the sauna still persists. Though even if you can’t find sauna-smoked ham, we still suggest relaxing in a traditional Finnish sauna – the perfect way to warm up during December!
Prepared to be scared. Grýla is an Icelandic giantess who comes down from her mountain at Christmas to eat misbehaving children who she boils in a large pot. If someone is going to strike fear into you as a child, it’s certainly Grýla. Her husband, Leppaluthi, is lazy and mostly stays at home in their cave, though if you head to the main street in Akureyri, you’ll find them both terrorising the streets!
The Yule Lads
These are the sons of Gryla and Leppaluthi. They are a group of 13 mischievous pranksters who harass the Icelandic population and all have descriptive names that convey their favourite way of harassing (Pan Scraper and Meat Hook). They come to town one by one during the last 13 nights before Christmas, but in modern times the Lads are depicted as being a little nicer then they used to be. Some leave small gifts in shoes that children have placed on window sills, but if the child has been disobedient they leave a potato instead!