Before Christianity came to Sweden, the sun was the object of worship. There was feasting to welcome back the light. This observance of the solstice yielded slowly to the Christian worldview. Swedish Christmas celebrations became in the end a consolidation of the two ways of thinking. The Festival of the Roman Sun God ended but it reappeared in the form of the observance of the birth of Christ.
The Nordic people have a deep-rooted dedication to the sun and the outdoors. In the Scandinavian summers you will find that people feel it their duty to be outdoors when the weather is fine. It looks healthy to have a sun tan, and nowhere else is this cultivated as intensely as in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia.
When fall comes a certain gloom descends on the Swedes – into November when the days become shorter. It is a time to stay home and there is precious little incentive to go out and socialize.
Then comes December and the day of Lucia! Lights begin to shine and the doors are opened – it is the beginning of the Swedish Christmas season. One may wonder why the Lucia tradition took root in Sweden. After all the original Lucia lived in Italy around the year 300 and it seems a stretch to think that it would have such an impact on the northern country of Sweden. Suffice it to say that Lucia can be traced to the latin word lux, meaning light. When Lucia is portrayed in art she usually carries a torch, and over her head appears a halo. So the symbolism of Lucia seems to tie in nicely with the idea of “the change” or the change of the seasons when the days will again gradually become longer and lighter.
The Nordic people accustomed to the long, dark winter nights, covet the light. It is something to be celebrated and longed for.
Nordic mythology never being far away, it can be said that Lucia is the successor to the goddess Freja.
Freja would come to them as an apparition, dressed in white, serving mead out of a horn – a symbol of the good year to be granted ahead.
Feasting at this time of year has a long tradition…since long before Christianity was introduced to the Northern people. It was a holiday to celebrate the return of the “light”more than anything and to attempt to get the “forces” on one’s side for the coming year.
There was drinking of ale and there was much food, it was a kind of magic celebrating abundance of all things. Supernatural forces were assumed to be present and this would influence even the animals.
The heathen celebrations had a lot of do with getting intoxicated and in that way getting in contact with higher powers. When Christianity came - the old customs were simply adjusted to fit the new order of things. In the laws of the “Gulating” in the early medieval times it was recommended that the people drink to the honor of God instead.
Folkways are still very much in command of the thinking and the traditions. It supersedes both the old Norse Mythology and the later Christianity, the basic folk beliefs have persisted over both.
"Tomten" or the Swedish equivalent of Santa Claus is an example of how folk beliefs live on in the imagination of present day generations. It seems lately to be connected to Swedish Christmas, but it was not always that way. In earlier times he was believed to be present wherever people were at work. On every farm there was a “tomte” that made sure that everyone did their part, that the animals got their feed and the crops were growing. There was even “tomtar” at sea and in the mines, blacksmith shops and saw mills.
“Tomten” was a little, gnome like and conscientious type who demanded a modest reward for his favors. It could be in the form of porridge or other good things from the Christmas table.
Wherever the tomte was present there was neatness, order and efficiency. Sometimes the nordic conscientious behavior has been credited to Luther, but it may be equally due to the influence of the “tomte”.
People have a deep need to believe in something bigger than themselves, particularly when they encounter great challenges. Then it is important not to tempt fate, to step with the right foot over the doorstep, not to put down the keys on the table, and be vigilant at the time of a full moon.
We avoid walking under a ladder, and we notice when a black cat cross the road in front of us.
There is a new interest in the folk beliefs, even among children and young people. It is exciting to be part of a larger whole and form your own personal belief in those things that can not be readily explained.
The old folk beliefs are intricately connected with nature. It is communicated in the oral tradition of storytelling, you get it with your “mother’s milk” that you are in fact a part of nature. And who knows if it is not possible to have a hand in forming the future? It has consequences if you are not considerate and kind to others. What you do may come back to haunt you.
The old stories and myths contain principles and a great deal of wisdom. Perhaps even more than the familiar fairy tales that begin with “Once upon a time”.
Swedish Christmases evoke fond memories of delicious homemade breads and pastries, simple and beautiful wreaths and ornaments, and handmade crafts fashioned by the fire on a snowy day.
Here readers will learn how to bring those warm traditions into their own homes, wherever they live.
Included are instructions to make mulled wine, homemade peanut brittle, red candied apples, crisp pepparkakor, lightly browned Swedish meatballs, candles, wreaths, and more.
Each recipe and project are accompanied by beautiful full-color photographs.
From fashioning centerpieces to baking delicious cookies to hand-making Christmas tree ornaments, this book will inspire readers to rediscover the joys of a Scandinavian Christmas.
100 color photographs