A Swedish Christmas

by Diana Lange

“I hear him! I hear him!” Lena shouted. She could hardly breathe.

A loud knocking sounded from the door. “Are there any good children in this house?” a voice asked.

Jultomten had arrived!

Unlike the American Santa Claus, Jultomten enters through the front door. He hands out presents in person, and each child shakes his hand. And that’s just one of the many differences between American and Swedish Christmas traditions.

O Christmas Tree
Swedes wait to decorate the tree until Christmas Eve. Families hang small wood ornaments and freshly baked ginger cookies from the branches (see recipe to the right). White lights shimmer like candles. You can also spot tiny Swedish flags all over the tree. In the evening, the children dance around the tree and sing folk songs.

The tree stays up until mid-January. Then, during a big party to say goodbye to Christmas, families put away the ornaments and throw the tree out the door.

Christmas Eve dinner includes dozens of hot and cold dishes spread out buffet-style. Since most Swedes live near the sea, the meal includes several fish dishes with strange names (gravlax, lutfisk) and strong flavors, but you’ll also find ham, meatballs, sausages, potatoes, three kinds of cabbage and a drink that tastes like root beer.

TV Time
Your family probably likes to watch certain movies at Christmas. In Sweden, half of the country tunes in on Christmas Eve to watch old Disney cartoons. The program rarely changes from year to year, and most families can quote their favorite lines by memory.

The Holy Day
After decorating, opening presents, feasting and laughing in front of the TV, most children go to bed early on Christmas Eve. That’s because church starts at 5:30 the next morning. Christmas day is spent reflecting on the birth of Jesus and thanking God for sending His Son.


Pepparkakor (Ginger Cookies)


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon molasses
juice and zest of 1 orange
3½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
ribbon or string


1. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar together.
2. Stir in egg, molasses, orange juice and orange zest.
3. In a second bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Then stir dry ingredients into wet mixture.
4. Cover dough and let chill overnight in the refrigerator (optional).
5. Preheat oven to 350º F.
6. Roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness.
7. Cut dough into shapes with cookie cutters. Make a hole near the top of each cookie for the ribbon.
8. Bake on cookie sheets for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on wire racks.
9. Run ribbon or string through hole in cookie, then hang on your tree. (Leave a few to eat right away!)

—Clubhouse staff

Copyright © 2012 by Diana Lange. Photo © Ben Dalton/Flickr.com; used under Creative Commons license.