Tips for Embracing Christmas Swedish Style | Undutchables

Tips for Embracing Christmas Swedish Style

Due to Covid-19 many of the traditional Christmas celebrations in the city are cancelled. There are virtual tours of the city available.

‘We ventured into Stockholm to see the Christmas lights, but above all, the gargantuan Christmas tree which is erected every year at Skeppsbron, a beautiful spot by the water and with the stunning painted buildings of Stockholm’s medieval old city, Gamla Stan, as a backdrop. The tree is the tallest Christmas tree in the world – a heady 38 metres or so and decorated with 5,000 lights, a 4 metre star at its top and a gorgeous array of decorations featuring Swedish signature red and white candy canes and gingerbread men. It was truly mesmerising for its sheer size and its graceful simplicity. Sweden all over.

The main square in Gamla Stan, Stortorget, was the focal point of activity with the Christmas market in full flow, Icelandic people bedecked in magnificent woollen full circled coats and heavy silver jewellery selling reindeer meat, little wooden stalls offering huge round lollies of gingerbread perfectly decorated and everyone consuming Swedish mulled wine – glögg – to conquer the chill. The twin cafés on one side of the square, one ochre, one terracotta, with their amazing stepped roofs were brimming with people eagerly consuming large and fragrant kanelbullar and vats of hot chocolate, sitting on circles of reindeer hide to soften the wooden seats. It was an entirely dark mid afternoon, but the scene twinkled with lights, good humour and expectation’.

Christmas tree Skeppsbron stockholm

Christmas in Sweden is different. It’s at once more restrained, pared back and minimal than what you may be used to, but at the same time authoritative in its stylish simplicity and refreshing pragmatism. You certainly won’t be tired of the very concept by the time it comes, as can happen when the decorations and hype have started in early October in other countries. And with less than two weeks to go, how can you best embrace what a Swedish Christmas has to offer?

Firstly, seeing the magnificent, gargantuan Christmas tree at Skeppsbron is an absolute must. It’s simply staggering, enchanting and bewitching. Take the family on a walk along the water, your eyes gazing to the beautiful colours of Gamla Stan on the one side and to the tree on the other. It seems like the most incredible feat that something so massive can be there at all, rather than at home in the wilds of Sweden’s forests. The decorations will dazzle and you will be filled with awe.

Then visit Stortorget in the very heart of Gamla Stan, to soak up the wonderful atmosphere here. It’s all about gingerbread, vast cups of hot chocolate, glögg and, in normal times, the amazing Christmas market. Whilst you may curse the onset of darkness so soon after lunch for much of the winter, somehow in the run up to Christmas it opens the floodgates to indulging in the cosy embrace of the dark which sets off so beautifully a myriad of twinkling lights and Sweden’s signature candles bedecking every window in sight. It’s worth venturing towards the landmark NK department store on Hamngatan in Östermalm to see its fabulous window displays – people will stand transfixed, gazing in wonder at their gorgeousness, so why not join them?

Julbords, the traditional Christmas feast replete with more courses than you can count, may be out of the question this year, but you can still indulge in some of the best Swedish culinary treats over Christmas. Visit the Polkagriskökeri at Stora Nygatan 44 in Gamla Stan to see traditional red and white stripy candy canes being made before your eyes, then buy plenty to decorate your Christmas tree and to nibble on until the big day arrives. Or take the plunge and swap your habitual turkey or goose for a Swedish Julskinka (Christmas ham), preceded by herrings marinated according to your fancy, or smoked reindeer. Let your nostrils be filled and your tummy warmed with the heady spiciness of Glögg (mulled wine) whilst your children indulge in the mysteriously gratifying stickiness of Julmust, Sweden’s festive answer to Coca Cola.

Be prepared to be flexible. If you’re determined to celebrate Christmas on 25th December then you may be rather on your own. Go with the flow and celebrate on 24th of December as the Swedes do. Father Christmas will visit once it’s dark and there may be lovely candle-lit church services or virtual ones to enjoy. Then on 25th itself, you could take to the ice on your skates if it were cold enough, or otherwise go for a bracing walk to shake off the cobwebs. Then return home for more hot chocolate and gingerbread.

This year is challenging everywhere and so many usual rhythms have been disturbed but take a tip from the Swedes and let warming, comforting food and drinks take a leading role, complemented by the reassuring flicker of masses of lights. In the midst of winter, it really makes sense to make the most of the daylight while it lasts, so perhaps keep your big feasts for supper time and get outside when the sun raises its shy face. At Christmas, more than ever it’s time to play Sweden at its own game and discover why they do things as they do. God Jul!

Alison Allfrey is a British writer, linguist and communications consultant who lived in Stockholm from 2012 to 2015. She published So Sweden – Living Differently, a memoir of her time in Sweden and inspiration for ex-pats living there in October 2019, available on Amazon as below. She has also had articles published about Sweden in The Local (, Nordic Style Magazine, Sverige Magasinet and Alison lives with her family near Winchester in the UK. She is an avid traveller and loves exploring other cultures. Her latest book, Stockholm – Sweden at your fingertips, written in conjunction with expert guide Jessica Dölling Gripberg, will be published on Amazon early in 2021 and promises to be the indispensable guide to making the most of Stockholm which every ex-pat needs.

Interested in her books? You can purchase them here!


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