Christmas is fast approaching and this year more than most, everyone is looking for that extra Christmas cheer to make this holiday season special. For the Nordic countries, Christmas is one of the most beloved traditions. Not only is it a full-on celebration of love and family, but it also marks the point when the light begins to prevail over darkness and the days get a little bit longer, leaving behind the Fall and the 19 hours of the night.
Here is a quick look at some Nordic Christmas traditions to add to your own holiday.
Christmas is actually a pagan holiday called Yule, a days-long feast to celebrate the winter solstice. It was only in the 9thcentury AD that it started to be shaped into what we know today by missionaries. The name though remains the same: Jul in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Jól in Iceland, and Joulu in Finland. Read more about the story of Yule: The Shortest Day: Celebrating Winter Solstice, by Wendy Pfeffer.
Christmas in the Nordic countries starts early with St Lucia (December 13), a festival of lights that kicks off the holiday season. The tradition sees a girl wearing a gown and crown of candles leading a procession of candle-bearing women singing songs about the saint. There are even some traditional sweets to commemorate the day such as Lussebullar, sweet buns with raisins and saffron. Make sure to stop at one of the many bakeries to try one or make your own with this recipe.
Yule Lads and Gryla
We all know Santa Claus surrounds himself with very helpful elves. Well, in Iceland you also find the Yule Lads, 13 mischievous troll-like figures who pay visits to children on the lead up to Christmas. The cheeky trolls have become kinder over the years and now leave small presents in children’s shoes.
Gryla is an Icelandic giantess and the ultimate keeper of the naughty list. Every year she comes down from her mountain to eat any misbehaving kids. Her faithful cat always accompanies her and eats anyone who did not get new clothes for Christmas.
The Yule Goat was once upon a time the main gift giver in Nordic traditions. Nowadays it has been replaced by other figures like St. Nicks and the Tomtes, but you can still see Yule goats displays in many Swedish town squares. One of the most famous is in Gälve and it was first erected in 1966.
Part of the Swedish tradition, these little gnome-like figures are helpful elves who occupy a house and help its inhabitants. In more modern times they have become gift-givers and their appearance has merged into looking more like Santa Claus. Children often leave a bowl of Christmas porridge (rice pudding flavored with cinnamon and sugar) to thank them for their gifts and help during the year.
It would not be a traditional Nordic Christmas without a fragrant pot of glögg, a delicious mulled wine made with red wine, brandy, or aquavit, often spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Try and make your own glögg with this recipe.
We hope you enjoyed these Nordic Christmas traditions! If your family celebrates any others or if you have any special traditions from your country, please leaves us a comment below! We love to see how all of our followers celebrate the holidays!
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