Christmas in Sweden
The population of Sweden is 87% Lutheran so Christmas is celebrated widely there, with some unique traditions. To say Merry Christmas (and a happy New Year) in Swedish is God Jul (and Ett Gott Nytt År).
In Sweden people kick off the Christmas season with advent, the countdown to Christmas Day, with the traditional advent calendar. Children enjoy opening the little windows of the calendar each day to discover the treasures inside. Many homes have an advent candle holder with four candles, one for every week before Christmas. Every Sunday one is lit until all four candles are shining and Christmas has arrived.
The first Christmas celebration is marked by Saint Lucia Day on December 13, the feast day for the young Italian martyr Saint Lucy. In the morning the eldest daughter of the household dresses as Lucia, wearing a white robe, red sash, and an evergreen crown with tall candles attached. She is accompanied with her younger siblings: the girls also dressed in white and holding candles, and the "star boys" wearing pointed hats adorned with golden stars while holding lanterns or star wands. They then bring coffee, mulled wine, and saffron buns (a Swedish bun typically eaten during Advent and on St Lucia day) to the adults in their beds while singing Santa Lucia. In a more modern tradition the town elects their own Lucia, and escorted by her her maids and star boys, she goes around town bringing light, song, and, of course, saffron buns.
The Christmas tree usually isn't put up until two days before Christmas Day. It is decorated with glass bulbs, straw ornaments, candies, tinsel, and electric lights or candles. A house in Christmas time would be festively decorated with poinsettias, red tulips, evergreens, gingerbread biscuits, and may smell of pepparkakor, or, "ginger thins": a Swedish Christmas cookie.
The height of Christmas celebration in Sweden is Christmas Eve, called Julafton in Swedish. No work is to be done on this day except to feed the animals, and the family sits down to a feast. The traditional Julafton dinner consists of smorgasbord, a Scandinavian buffet, with ham, pork, or fish, jellied pigs feet, lutefisk, and various other sweets. Another tradition is to serve a rice porridge called Risgryngrot with a hidden almond in it. Whomever finds the whole almond in their bowl will be married the next year. This traditions varies between families.
After the meal a friend or family member dresses up as Tomte, the Christmas gnome. He is a Swedish legend that supposedly lives under the floorboards or in the barn, watching over the household and livestock throughout the year. He has a white beard, red robes, and hands out gifts with funny little rhymes attached that hint at what the gift is. Afterward the children leave him a bowl of porridge. In older days a yule goat called julbok was an alternative to Tomte, nowadays the goat is used only as a straw ornament. In recent times Santa Claus has caught up in Sweden and Tomte is losing his identity.
Many Swedish families make it a tradition to watch the Donald Duck Christmas specials on television every Christmas Eve at three PM.
Then on Christmas morning families get up very early to go to a candle-lit church service.
The Christmas festivities officially end on January 13, Knuts day. On this day the tree is chucked into the snow, all of the decorations taken down and the edible decorations gobbled up.