Have A Holly-Hygge Christmas
Celebrating My Swedish Roots This Holiday Season
When I think of the English, I think of the royal family, Big Ben, and awesome accents. I also think of a pale complexion and England’s history throughout the centuries. There’s so much that comes to mind when discussing the English. However, after much research and a few years of celebrating Swedish culture, only one word comes to mind over any other when describing a Swede…hygge.
What Is Hygge?
Pronounced hoo-gah, hygge is a Scandinavian word with a special meaning. According to Webster Dictionary, “hygge is a quality of coziness that makes a person feel content and comfortable. It’s also often used as an adjective meaning ‘cozy or comfortable’.” Fuzzy socks, candles, fur blankets, dim lights…all things that scream hygge. Now you’re speaking my language (literally)!
The more I learned about hygge and the Swedish culture, the more I wanted to embrace and celebrate it. Especially, during the holidays. After all, I can thank my inner Scot for my fiery temper and my inner English woman for my Snow White complexion, but my inner Swede…that’s who I am at my core.
Swedish Holiday Traditions
In order to properly embrace my heritage during Christmas, I first wanted to understand the different elements of Swedish culture. Though it’s difficult to define an entire country and culture in a few paragraphs, I wanted to highlight some of the most common symbols seen during the holidays (and some beyond that). If you’re interested, you can dig deeper into each element by following the links provided in their descriptions.
These are the hand-painted wooden horses I remember while visiting my great grandma. Dala horses have become a national symbol and come in tons of color combinations and patterns. You can even buy blank ones and paint your own!
In recent years, gnomes have become popular décor items. You can find them in gift shops, novelty shops, floral shops, and so much more. They can be generic, multi-seasonal, or decorated for a specific occasion. Either way, they seem to be popping up everywhere.
The tomte is said to be a spirit living in the buildings and barns of a farmstead. The little man helps look after the livestock and bring good fortune. Just be careful not to make your tomte mad or else he’ll start playing tricks on you! Learn more about the tomte here.
Don’t miss out on these Tomte storybooks!
The Straw Goat
Also known as the Yule goat, this figure has become a Swedish Christmas staple. Originally known as a pagan symbol, modern yule goats are made to be decorative ornaments or figures for under the tree. They are made of straw and decorated with red ribbon.
“In Sweden, people regarded the Yule goat as an invisible spirit that would appear some time before Christmas to make sure that the Yule preparations were done right,” according to Wikipedia.
Jul, pronounced yule, is the time between thanksgiving and New Years where festive decorations are in full swing. In the spirit of hygge, Swedish Christmas decorations are usually kept minimalist and cozy.
In addition to tomten, yule goats, and dala horses you’ll likely find bare evergreen trees, or trees simply adorned with homemade garlands, berries, wood, and straw ornaments. There are candles and homemade stars everywhere surrounded with the scent of freshly made glogg (Swedish mulled wine).
In contrast to the harsh winter conditions outside, the inside of homes are filled with warm and cozy aesthetic. Learn more about how Swedes decorate for Christmas here.
St. Lucia Day
Every year on December 13th, Swedes gather to celebrate St. Lucia Day. This holiday was created in honor of a girl, St. Lucia, who brought food to Christians hiding from Roman persecution. The legend says she wore a candlelit wreath on her head in order to light her way because her arms were too full of food.
Swedish celebrations include a processional (including a “St. Lucia” girl), songs, drinking coffee, and eating a variety of desserts. Some iconic St. Lucia day items include lussekatter (saffron infused bun), pepparakakor (Swedish gingerbread).
December 13th is the day we celebrate Christmas with my dad. Not only is it a sweet nod to our heritage, but having a separate day designated to him ensures a quality celebration and not a rushed, checklist affair as Christmas eve and Christmas day tend to be. It’s become one of my favorite days of the year!
You can learn more about St. Lucia Day here.
Eat, Drink, & Be Merry
Would it really be a 2022 holiday celebration without a charcuterie board? Though this isn’t necessarily a “Swedish” tradition, I believe that charcuterie embodies everything hygge.
Charcuterie is meant to be enjoyed as a conversational piece. You can snack on a huge variety of meats, cheeses, veggies, fruits, condiments, dips, crackers…pretty much anything you can think of. You can even kick up the Swede factor by adding smoked salmon or dill to your board.
No matter what you do, the rustic, earthy, cozy aesthetic a charcuterie board brings will never disappoint! Plus, they’re just so darn PRETTY!
A Swedish staple! It just couldn’t be Swedish Christmas without Swedish meatballs. You can serve them on their own, over noodles, or with mashed potatoes. They are a sweet and savory dish that will leave people wanting to know more.
Don’t forget the lingonberry jam! If you’ve never had lingonberries, the best way I can describe them is a slightly smaller, sweeter cranberry. I actually found this jar of lingonberry jam at my local grocery store, but you can also find some great options on Amazon.
I like to add a dollop of jam on the side of my Swedish meatballs and potatoes. It also makes a great addition to your charcuterie board, on Swedish pancakes, and in desserts.
I was super disappointed to learn our area is too warm to grow our own lingonberries on our acreage. However, if you live in a cooler, northern climate you should check into it. The bushes are easy to grow and low maintenance. Learn more about growing your own here.
Chocolate Sticky Cake
Also known as kladdkaka, this is by far my family’s favorite Swedish dessert! It is thick, rich, and full of chocolate. It’s basically a cake make out of ganache. YUM!!!!
It doesn’t need any topping except a light dusting a powdered sugar. If you don’t like rich desserts, you could also serve it will a side of berries for a tart contrast. Or, if you’d prefer, warm a slice to add to a bowl of vanilla ice cream!
Swedish gingerbread, or known as pepparakakor in Sweden, is more flavorful than other gingerbreads I’ve tried. It contains higher amounts of ginger, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon and tastes like Christmas! In my opinion, it doesn’t even need icing.
Though it tastes great, I do NOT recommend it for building gingerbread houses with. It’s too delicate of a dough and will end up crumbling due to it’s soft outcome. It’s an eating cookie only.
Rosenmunnar (Swedish thumbprint cookies) are second only to the chocolate sticky cake for me. These super simple, 4 ingredient cookies are SO soft. They are dangerously bite sized, so drive-by snackers beware!
Also known as Swedish mulled wine, this warm cocktail is the ultimate hygge addition. A hot mug of glogg in one hand, a Swedish gingerbread in the other, under a blanket, in front of a fire, and it’s SNOWING? I know I’m chilling in my living room but I might as well be in Sweden. LOL!
In years past, I’ve always bought the pre-bottled glogg, but after this year’s homemade option, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I don’t like dry wine. To me, it tastes like something you should pour into your gas tank. But over the years, super sweet wine has become TOO sweet. Pre-bottled glogg just happens to be one of those sickeningly sweet wines.
No, I did not grow up immersed in Swedish culture. No, I’ve never been to Sweden. Yes, I’m still learning more recipes and traditions every year. That’s the point!
Each family is in charge of their own Christmas traditions. Some are continued on from generation to generation. Some are lost while new ones are created.
In my case, I wanted to create a special tradition that will both embrace my past (ethnicity) and inspire my future (my kiddos). So far, it’s been a hit! What do you think?